Act Your Age

Fair warning: This is going to be a short rant about assumptions people make pertaining to age. Just recently I had someone tell me that I should, “Grow up and act your age.” My first reaction was to tell them to pay attention to their own behavior. After all, if they felt I was so old, then shouldn’t they be showing their “elder” a little more respect? But I held my tongue, and then wished them a great day – and went back to doing what I was doing in the first place. What was that? Skipping. Now admittedly, I was in Walmart, but I was skipping down the aisle. That might seem not a big deal for a child, but I’m a guy pushing sixty years old. Why was I skipping? Because I felt like it. I can. Lots of people my age can’t skip… or walk… or get out of their grave. So, screw it, I felt like skipping.

Now let’s get back to that “act your age” statement for a moment. First off, I can’t. Moment to moment, every day of our lives, we’re a different age. Therefore, logically, I’ve never been this age before, so how am I supposed to know how to “act my age?” What they actually mean is, “Act the way I think someone your age – and I’m guessing your age – should act.” In other words, they want me to meet their expectations for behavior for someone of a given age; and they might be entirely wrong in their guess about my age.

Secondly, age-based expectations of behavior are as wrong as gender-based, race-based, or any other personal characteristic based expectation. In today’s world where we’re supposed to celebrate the uniqueness and individuality of every person, it’s just as wrong to develop expectations based on age as it is on any other protected status.

Finally, let’s discuss what some of those assumed behaviors “should” be. How about moving slower? Yep. I’ve found that many people marvel at my age because I don’t move like I’m pushing sixty. I move, according to them, like someone in their forties. Why is that? Because I walk with a purpose. If I’m walking through a parking lot and a driver stops to let me cross in front of them, I job or run (unless I’m holding my wife’s hand and then I walk as fast as she can). And speaking of holding hands, we’ve been married almost 30 years and we still hold hands a lot. Friends have observed that we’re “acting like newlyweds” still.  Well, why not? I still call her my bride; after all, she is. My wife and I bought motorcycles this year and we put about 2,200 miles on them through the summer, riding for pleasure, recreation and to go places we wanted to see. “Old people on motorcycles?” someone asked me. “Ya’ll are going to get hurt.”  Well, I wrecked a motorcycle when I was 20 and trust me, I got hurt. I might not heal as fast now but fear of injury that can be avoided isn’t a reason not to do something.

“You might have a heart attack.” Maybe. Maybe not. I have a healthy heart and eat / exercise to keep it that way. I know of a 40-something UFC fighter who had a heart attack. Reality is that if I sat on the sofa all the time and ignored what I ate, I’d be for more likely to have a heart attack.

I’ve told this story before and the memory has served to mold my outlook on aging:

When I was 12 years old my dad took me up in the mountains to a farm owned by a friend of his. The friend was a veterinarian and had two sons close to my age. We spent a long weekend riding motorcycles (those of us under 15), hiking and seeing sights. One morning, very early, about seven a.m., we went down the road to visit a neighbor. The neighbor was a 92-year old man. Many 92-year-olds are physically challenged to say the least. This man had just returned from his two-mile run through the mountains. He was sitting on the steps of his front porch feeding an orphaned fawn from a baby bottle. Later that morning he planned to spend some hours working his active law practice and the afternoon was going to be spent working his farm. He was 92!!

At the grand old age of 12 I was amazed. I thought 92-year-old people had one foot in the grave and the other foot on a banana peel. Not this guy… and I never forgot it. I doubt I ever will.  He was living his life to its fullest despite his age – or perhaps because of his age. He knew what life was worth and the value of each moment. I feel pretty sure that when people told him to “act his age,” he told them to get stuffed.

The lesson is to not let other people’s assumptions about age and capability get in your way. Live your own best life. Ignore your age. Feel your existence each morning when you wake up. Stretch. Take inventory. Eat reasonably clean (80/20 rule applies). Drink in moderation. Exercise. Stay moving. As an orthopedist recently told me, “Motion is lotion.” Your want you joints to work? Move them. Motion supports mobility.

And don’t be so rude as to assume someone else’s capabilities based on what you guess their age to be. Not only is it rude, it demonstrates what YOU think your capabilities will be when you get to that age. Keep your thinking young. Keep your mind active. Never stop learning.

And… never stop skipping. Be silly. Have fun. We don’t stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing, so never stop playing!

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