As another birthday rapidly approaches, I wax philosophical about the aging process. I will soon be 56, a not insignificant number of years now being well behind me. The numbers do not lie, but the feeling is surreal in quality—how is this possible? I still look reasonable young (although the grays are coming in but good), and feel great, particularly invigorated at this particular moment after a two-hour bike ride with my wife on our tandem hybrid in preparation for the upcoming Bergen Bike Tour fundraiser.
The aging process is insidious. The years creep by, seemingly slowly at first; then, ever so gradually, the wheel of time starts to crank faster and faster with greater and greater momentum, until the weeks and months roll past at a dizzying and frightening warp speed. Before you know it, you are 50 years old and are at the summit of the mountain, looking down at the back face or, for you golfers out there, you’re on the back nine.
The older you get, the faster the perception of the passage of time gets. When I was a child, a single summer seemed to represent an eternity; now, in midlife, the summers blur by at a rate that challenges my sanity. Family events that are scheduled on the calendar for a few years from now seem to approach at an uncomfortably rapid pace and, suddenly, are here. Part of this may be explained on a strictly mathematical basis—for a five-year-old, one year represents 20% of his or her life, whereas for a 50- year-old, it represents a mere 2%.
The lightness of being is an additional factor facilitating the perception of the rapid passage of time—we float around the planet consumed by a variety of roles that we play, always in a hurry, constantly on the move, existing without giving a great deal of thought to actual existence—as a result, existence seems to lose its substance, weight, meaning, and time framework. We are so consumed by our numerous mundane daily destinations, working, traveling, living in our oftentimes insular circles, that we are remiss in attending to the real journey, the true process, life in its entirety. Our pursuit of a productive and busy career does not necessarily lend itself to the awareness of time: time consciousness, if you will. We are all ever increasingly focused on our day-to-day activities, too caught up in maintaining our routines to take notice of the hours, weeks, and years speeding by. It is a Zen precept that life is to be found in the present moment, and not the future. Lack of focus on the here and now with too much attention to the next moment can be a factor in the perception of time passing at warp speed.
The bottom line is that the future is approaching in a fast and furious fashion and most of us desire to maximize our time—one of our most precious commodities—that we spend occupying space on our planet. And we really do have precious little time here—to quote author/columnist Ben Stein paraphrasing Hart Crane: “Our earthly transit is a brief wink between eternity and eternity.” To further quote Ben Stein, “Time is overwhelming, omnipotent, and ubiquitous in its power…it may never be conquered or defeated.”
Stop for just a second or two to fully understand the notion that our time is truly limited, that the clock is ticking away relentlessly. So what is one to do in the face of this seemingly harsh reality? The only thing you can do is try to appreciate every moment, put your best effort into every endeavor, and relish the journey because the inevitable destination for ALL of us is exactly the same. This is essentially an expansion of Tony Horton’s “BRING IT” concept (regarding exercise) to life in general.
“Life is a fatal adventure. It can only have one end. So why not make it as far ranging and free as possible.” Alexander Eliot (author/critic)
“We are living on borrowed time.” Father Americo Salvi, my patient
Our Mojo is Ageless
“Age isn’t how old you are, but how old you feel.” Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Memories of My Melancholy Whores
Our driving force and passion—spirit and vitality, if you will, is something that we are born with and generally never changes with the aging process. No joke! I’m, at my essence, just a 55-year-old kid with the same mental attitude, energy, and life force that I have had since childhood. When my twelve-year-old daughter inquisitively seeks advice from me, I answer her questions as best I can, but secretly feel like I am party to a grand charade— I am really an imposter—a poseur—a child in a man’s body, and at any time my duplicity will be unmasked. I honestly do not feel any different than I did when I was eighteen. The flame of joie-de-vivre, or lack thereof, that we are imbued with does not die or change as we age. Too many of us harbor a misconception that physical aging is associated with aging of mind and attitude. WRONG!! Questioning my own ninety-year-old grandfather, a Russian immigrant who was employed as a Brooklyn “seltzer man,” about this confirmed my already sneaking suspicions about this stability of passion. He conveyed to me that our drive, enthusiasm, and spirit are truly independent of chronological age.
“Never abandon the spirited fire of spontaneous, determined inspiration that sparks dreams into majestic conclusions, marvelous deeds, and spectacular endings.” Bernard Ficarra, M.D.
“You are old when you lose the capacity to dream and be creative.” Shlomo Raz, M.D.
Bottom line: Time races on, seemingly faster and faster. So eat well, stay fit, take good care of yourself, live well, be well, treat yourself well and enjoy what life has to offer. As the cliché states, this is not a dress rehearsal nor is there a second act so…carpe diem (seize the day).
Happy Labor Day weekend and may our United States employment stagnation rapidly correct itself.
Andrew Siegel, M.D.