For the past forty-two years I have been eighteen years old. Sometimes seventeen; sometimes nineteen, twenty, twenty-one or twenty-two. Never over thirty—the age Mick Jagger told my generation should not be trusted, and certainly not seventy-three, an age when the only names you can recall are those of your family physician, surgeons, and physical therapists. The Age of Retirement! The age I never expected.
Hardin-Simmons University will get along just fine without me. I won’t get along fine without my eighteen, nineteen, twenty, and twenty-one-year-old peers—my students, my instructors in how to face a future of new experiences, new vocabulary, new music, new Netflix series, new tolerances, diversity.
I’m not old. Now, however, I do recognize the old, acknowledging them, and they seem to recognize me, and some smile—wry and almost pitying when I walk among them . . .
At The Grocery Store—
The elderly gentleman impeccably dressed in white, imitation leather walking shoes, white linen pants, long-sleeve seersucker shirt buttoned at the wrist, and the green and gold logo cap, “BU” front and center, probably a present from a great-grandson, or maybe an alumni office, taps his hand-carved, polished cane in time with each “Mother-May-I?” baby step inching him across the parking lot. I tell him, “I like your cap.” He grins as if to say he’s noticed my Polo khaki cap, the bill shaped the way I’ve styled it since Little League days. He doesn’t seem concerned he’s holding back traffic dropping off and picking up family. “What’s their hurry?” he seems to say.
“Sam,” my cashier friend checking off my shredded-wheat-with-bran cereal, my dark chocolate, cashews, kale, and the half loaf of “Good And Grainy Bread,” pauses at the box of cereal, holding it up before me and nodding his recognition of my selection. I tell him I miss our childhood years of sugar cereals with plastic toys buried inside. He says cancer and diabetes no longer permit him such luxuries. He’s a survivor. Last checkup, cancer free, the type-two diabetes under control.
The certainly older-than-I woman waiting to bag my items asks if I prefer paper or plastic. She is already holding the plastic bag. She places the groceries in a shopping cart and begins to push it toward the automatic glass doors. I tell her I can carry the items; no need for her to go out into the mid-afternoon heat. She looks at me as if I have insulted her. She motions me ahead. At my sporty Mini Cooper, she permits my lifting the items into the hatchback, then reverses the cart, adjusting for the always one wobbly wheel, and waves me home, “Have a good day.”
At The Mom And Pop Watch Repair Shop—
The long-married couple are beautiful and comfy in the one-room, storefront shop they’ve maintained since early marriage, everything in its place: the oil paintings hanging on the walls, displayed as if an art gallery; the slow tick-tock of Regulator clocks, a soporific sound inviting ease, a place of no hurry, the steady ticking enticing me to sit a spell and visit while my watch battery is replaced. “Good as new.”
At The Neighborhood Gym,
My membership is paid for by my new health-insurance program, an investment to keep my muscles (What muscles?) and bones strong enough to maintain me upright and out of hospitals, preventing my being a drain on insurance companies’ coffers.
I’m not old. Yes, both shoulders’ rotator cuffs are torn, bone-on-bone grinding, clearly heard when I try to press the lightest weight-setting over my head or drop (literally) to the mat for sit-ups, my no-meniscus, no-cartilage right knee and the shoulders collapsing me to the mat. I tell myself no one notices. Signs on the walls and all the workout machines declare this facility a Judgment-Free Zone. Thank you. And I love the young, red-haired manager who welcomes me with her lack of condescension, her sincere smile.
Judgment Free Zone. Thank you. I’m not old. Thank you. I’m old. And yes, “old” is a four-letter word. For “life” lived well, a life of gratitude, of grace.