Yesterday, I realized we’re all sprinting to old age. Today, I realized that those lucky enough to make it to old age should probably refrain from sprinting. The aging process is a relative progression, as we’ve all met young sixty-year-olds and old forty-year-olds, but no matter how old we are, we occasionally receive reminders that we’re aging. The aging process rarely hits us in an “Oh, my God I’m (fill in the age here)!” one day in the mirror. Aging is often more of a gradual process that hits us in tiny, little, and seemingly insignificant hits, every day.
We fell on a Tuesday doing something we’ve done our whole lives. We tripped trying to skip a stair on a Wednesday, and we’ve skipped a stair since our legs grew long enough to do so. (Mental note, skipping stairs may no longer be in our repertoire.) On Thursday, we caught ourselves making old man sounds when we sat, but we can’t even remember when we started doing that. We admired a beautiful person on Friday, and someone informed us that we’re probably too old to continue doing that. “It’s just odd,” they said, “considering the age gap.” Someone considered it inappropriate on Saturday, and on Sunday someone found it “Absolutely disgusting” that we should admire the beauty of a 20-year-old. “Because you’re old enough to be her grandpa!” they say. The progression didn’t occur that quickly, within one week, but on some days it seems like it does.
We all know we’re aging on a physical, superficial level, but mentally we’re not so far removed from that energetic, wildly enthusiastic 20-year-old who was afraid to talk to girls. When they add, “And you should know better than to stare at a 20-year-old woman,” we realize how far removed we now are. We do “know better” on one level, we know how old we are, but their scorn is a painful reminder of how much we’ve aged. We do the calculations in our head, and we realize they’re right. We are, in fact, that old now. The realizations that we’re that old now are not about any of one of the matters listed here. It’s about all of them. It’s about that big old snowball that’s been accumulating over the years without notice.
“You know you’re old when you fall and no one laughs,” a comedian once said. You know you’re old when they surround you after a fall, and they’re not there to point and laugh. They’re there, because they’re concerned. You know you’re old when their raised eyebrows suggest that you might want to refrain from such activities in the future. You know you’re old when no one laughs about it later, even behind your back. People didn’t laugh when we fell when we were very young, and somewhere along the way, it turned full circle. People aren’t laughing anymore. They’re concerned. It’s humiliating. The science of their silence involves a calculation of our age and the impact of your fall. It’s no longer funny. It’s so disturbing to some of them that they consider it alarming.
“He was sprinting.”
“Ok, well, he probably shouldn’t be sprinting at his age,” they instruct one another.
You know you’re old when you’ve become the subject of group concern, and the group addresses the subject of their concern in the third person, as if to suggest that they’ll take care of this whole matter going forward, because it’s obvious that we can’t anymore. They addressed us in the third person when we were young, implying that an authority figure should’ve seen to it that that didn’t happen. Everything in between involved laughter, directed at us in the first person, because they knew we were old enough to know better but young enough to sustain the damage of our stupidity. We might feel some warmth when we realize how much these people care about us, but that fades when we realize their resolutions mirror those family members make when our loved ones reached a point when they were no longer capable of caring for themselves. They have no problem telling us when we’re too old to oggle, but no one instructs that we’ve reach a point where it’s considered ill advised to sprint until it should be obvious to everyone involved.
A game of ‘keep away’ developed organically. My nephew was in the middle, laughing as hard as the two adults were on opposite sides of him. He was laughing so hard, and apparently having so much fun, that another kid joined into help him defeat us. Another kid joined in a couple of throws later, then three, then four, then so much more. The game wasn’t young versus old, but it evolved into it. It started out friendly, but it evolved into a competitive definition of whatever remained of our athletic ability.
I started out tossing the ball from a stationary position. I was laughing and failing on purpose, giving the kids a chance, until one of them said a little something that I considered a provocative definition of my declining athletic ability. When it came time to catch the ball, I followed the same pattern. I went from light-hearted attempts to get open to employing quick, ankle spraining jukes. When I realized I couldn’t shake the nephew I once held as an infant, the quick movements evolved into some running. I ran every single day at one point in my life, so it was not a concern to me. I don’t know if I started losing, or if I sensed that the others were further questioning my ability, but I began sprinting to open spots to capitalize on the holes in their coverage. It dawned on me, while doing it that I haven’t done this in years. No one gave this a second thought for most of my life. Some people run, some people sprint. I didn’t see the spectators watching, but I could feel it. I even saw a couple stand with some concern. Did they see the game for what it was, or were they wondering if they should begin sprinting too? Did they stand to source the emergency that sparked my progression? I looked over to verify that they were watching me, but in that casual glance, I almost tumbled. I couldn’t look back at them. I had to be mindful of my feet. (Mental Note II, running now requires more focus.) Running was not my greatest concern. Stopping was. I had a myriad of little feet under mine, and I had to focus to avoid them.
I know I’m not as athletically inclined as I once was, but who is? I am smarter now. I know how to use my faculties much better than I did when I was younger. In the midst of these throws, my competitive juices got the best of me. I overdid it. I knew my best presentation could be found sitting on the lawn furniture with the other old people, talking about what old people talk about with lemonade in hand on a sunny day, but I didn’t decide to play this game. An impromptu game broke out and evolved into a character-defining match of my ability against theirs. I could not just quit. “Why did you quit?” I imagined one of them asking me. “Because I’m old and I can’t handle the physical requirements of such a game anymore.” Yeah, that’s not in my nature.
The nephew I once held as an infant was shutting me down in coverage at one point. I encouraged it verbally, but I also wanted to discourage it physically. I wanted to prove so dominant that he left our little game a little demoralized. To do so, I employed some of the know-how I picked up along the way, using the bag of tricks I developed in the decades I spent playing intramural football. Michael Jordan developed a fade away when his skills started to decline. I developed a few moves of my own over the years. “Youth is wasted on the young,” Winston Churchill said. What if I had this wide array of jukes when I was younger, I asked myself, would I have been better? I sprinted to the right, juked, and went further right. In doing so, my fellow old man led me well with a pass. My ability to stop on a dime and juke surprised my nephew. He went left to cover the traditional juke, and he did so right under me. To avoid taking him out, I had to adjust. (Mental note III, my ability to adjust on the fly has receded.) I tripped over his feet. (Mental Note IV: Studies show that the chances of tripping increase exponentially when we sprint.) Been there, done that. (Mental note V, watch out for ground, it hurts, but not near as much as a parked car.) I didn’t have much choice, in the stumbling and bumbling that followed. I decided to take on the car. (Mental note VI, the pain experienced from stationary objects increases when approached at top speed, and we should all try to avoid parked cars as often as possible. They can be unforgiving.) Hitting the car, and then the equally unforgiving concrete was humiliating, and I thought the people surrounding me with looks of concern was the peak of my humiliation, until my nephew called me up later that night to apologize for getting me so worked that I almost ended up impaled on a car.