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Bill Eggert

March 18, 2012

BILL EGGERT | Growing old gracefully

— Some time ago, long before the Internet, a curious reporter sent the following telegram to legendary and ageless movie star Cary Grant: “How old Cary Grant?” The witty Grant fired back this telegram: “Old Cary Grant fine. How you?” It appears even the age-defying Grant was a bit sensitive about his age.

Of course, those of a certain age remember one of beloved comedian Jack Benny’s running gags was his sensitivity to his age. When asked how old he was, after a laugh-filled pregnant pause, Benny would say “39.” And Benny stayed 39 for the next 41 years, until he passed at age 80. We all laughed at this joke because we all get a bit sensitive about our age.

When we were kids we could not wait to turn 21. And yet when we did turn 21 it was like we hit an ice patch, and we were soon 30, and even worse, 40. The years seem to fly by as we reach adulthood, probably because we are busier with more responsibilities.

The reason for this rumination on age is that this month I celebrate another birthday.

While it is not a milestone birthday ending in ‘0,’ they still seem to smart a bit after 40.

Maybe that’s why Benny’s age 39 was so funny: It marks the last year of ‘youth.’

Even worse, my generation, the boomers (born between 1946-1964), were known for their celebration of youth: Never trust anyone over 30.

That first wave of boomers is now entering retirement. Even converting my age into dog years is depressing. People tell me I look good for my age (a mixed compliment at best), and I do look about 10 to 15 years younger than I am.

My parents’ good genes must take credit for that. I tell people the reason I look young is because of a blood transfusion I once had from Dick Clark.

Of course, given my past health issues, I should be glad to be even around to celebrate another birthday. I guess we should all feel lucky to still be walking around this planet; we never know when it will be time to go. My dad and his generation were very philosophical about that. They accepted that inevitability and never worried about it. My generation obsesses about it, and I don’t blame them. There are constant reminders for us growing old: Aches and pains in joints as we get up each morning, watching those crows’ feet become more pronounced on our reflection in the mirror, having the bag boy at the grocery store call you “Sir.” They are watershed moments where life gently reminds you of growing older.

The problem as we age is not only dealing with challenges from aging, but dealing with a society and culture obsessed with youth. Youth must be served, as the saying goes. As we grow old our reference points become null and void to a younger society.

My long-running joke about being frequently mistaken for Tom Selleck is rapidly losing its relevance to a younger generation not familiar with the ’80s television icon. It seems the older we get the more invisible we become. As Eric Clapton sang in “Bell Bottom Blues:” “I don’t want to fade away…” It is a fear we all have as we grow older.

As I grow older I frequently think back to replicant (robot) Roy Batty’s (Rutger Hauer) dying speech in the 1982 sci-fi film “Blade Runner,” where he tells Harrison Ford’s character of memories unique to being a replicant.

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tanhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain. Time to die …”

We all have special memories unique to us as we navigate through life. Sharing these memories with others, especially those younger than us, can serve as cautionary tales to help guide them through their lives. Or not. But by sharing those memories with others helps validate our own existence in some way. It is a small consolation to share memories with others as we grow older, and hopefully, grow old gracefully in the process. Unless you believe in reincarnation, we only get to do this once. So let’s make it count …

Bill Eggert is a Johnstown resident. He writes an occasional column.

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