Sprinting & Age


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.

“What happened?”

“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.

The Eye of the Fly


In a study published in Journal Science, researchers found that flies have the fastest visual responses in the animal kingdom. The study suggests that this rapid vision may be a result of a mechanical force that generates electrical responses that are sent to the brain much faster, for example, than our eyes, where responses are generated using traditional chemical messengers. The fly’s vision is so fast that it is capable of tracking movements up to five times faster than our eyes.

FruitFly460I realize that the fly would trade this one strength for even twenty-five percent of our brain power, but one has to wonder why the fly was given such an incredible eye compared to our relatively weak one. Why would we be granted the most complex brain in the animal kingdom, and not have the physical advantages inherent in the eye of the fly, the ears of the owl, the various sensory receptors of the snake, or the nose of the bloodhound? Wouldn’t we be able to better use those gifts better than those mindless animals, and insects, that don’t know enough to appreciate it?

The obvious answer, from the Darwin perspective, is that humans don’t need these extra senses for survival, or to avoid predators. The more interesting perspective, I believe, is that having an extra sense would prove such a distraction that it might inhibit the tedious, arduous process of developing the complex human brain.

In every young human child’s development, there is a constant push and pull. Parents and teachers push children to develop habits that they hope will eventually develop that brain as it matures. They know that if that child is going to find any measure of success within the species, he or she will need to be pushed to develop that brain to capacity in a manner that can be painstakingly, gradual. Some would argue that no human ever reaches the maximum capacity of the brain, but it’s not much of a reach to suggest that if we were distracted by a super sense we wouldn’t come as close as we currently do.

It could be argued that there have never been more distractions, pulling children away from the painstakingly, gradual process with promises of instant gratification and the subsequent definitions that result in the child’s peer group. It could also be argued that while there are more distractions now, there have always been distractions, and coaching or teaching children how to avoid distractions has remained constant.

Although there are numerous benefits to a young child engaging in athletics, it could be argued that it is an impediment to the optimal development of the brain. We’ve all known exceptionally gifted athletes. We’ve all seen them receive preferential treatment in classrooms, and we’ve all seen this impede academic achievement. The exceptionally gifted athlete is usually recognized early on, and while there are some attempts at developing a well-rounded character, everyone –especially the child— knows where the focus is.

“Keep your grades up if you want to maintain eligibility,” the adults surrounding the gifted athlete will say, but they rarely coach them to achieve academic excellence, and this is eventually displayed in the post-game interviews of those few elite athletes who have achieved the professional level.

imagesThe same distractions can be found among the beautiful. Both genders learn that beauty is power, but most would acknowledge that the beautiful female has far more power in the room than anyone else, including the beautiful male. Most beautiful females learn, at some point in their lives, that no matter what they do in the classroom, their mental prowess will always be considered secondary to their physical attributes, and that they would be probably be better off if they just sat there and looked beautiful. They subsequently learn to speak less often, so as to silently soak up the power their beauty wields in the room?

Both of these superficial exaggerations could be called distractions in human development, and those who have these physical characteristics learn to employ their own distractions to keep people from focusing on their lack of intellectual development by criticizing those who wasted their time devoting precious resources to developing the brain.

“Did you read Lord of the Rings when you were a kid?”

“No,” the beautiful reply, “I was out getting laid.”

“At fifteen?” the nerdy brainiac asks, “because I read those books at fifteen.”

“Yes,” the beautiful person responds.

“You were getting laid so often that you didn’t have time to read?”

YES!”

That exchange is not a direct quote from the TV show Friends, but it’s close. It encourages the idea that meaningless sex trumps any other activities of youth. “I was out climbing trees, playing football, listening to KISS, and collecting Star Wars cards.” 

“Really, because I was out getting laid.”

Sex between immature individuals should be the goal in life. It is the end game, and the end of the conversation. No one ever thinks to ask, “What did all that sex end up doing for you?”

“Doing for me? What are you talking about? I was having sex when you were reading Tolkein, the comic strips Dondi and Peanuts, and all of those stupid Chose Your Own Adventures you nerds read.” 

“Did you forge the relationships you had with these people in such a way that it helped you have more meaningful experiences that helped shape your life in profound ways in life?” 

“No, I was having sex with them.”

We’re not to question the idea that if we could’ve had more sexual experiences when we were young, we’d be better individuals now, or at least cooler people. Others drop the philosophy that if we had sex more often as young people, we wouldn’t be such a stick in the mud now. Some of us did have such an opportunity when we were nine or ten-year-old, but we turned them down because we were scared, and we weren’t ready. So, if we said yes to that incredibly beautiful sixteen-year-old babysitter, we’d be better people now? 

Due to the fact that so many people laugh at such admissions now, we’ve been conditioned to feel shame, regret, and embarrassment about that fact. We feel shame admitting that, and we regret it almost every day. Why, because we have been conditioned to believe that that exchange of fluids will make us different people. This line of thinking gives credence to the idea that we never truly escape high school. We all wanted to be the cool kids in high school, and no amount of rationale will ever defeat this. Even when we reach our forties, and beyond, and we begin to appreciate our nerdy, reading youth for what it was, we still find it difficult to defeat the superficial, hyper-sexual Friends mentality.

On the flip side, no one would say that reading the Lord of the Rings series is an optimal component of a child’s development, it does put that child on the road to every parent’s holy grail: The love of reading. A goal made all the more difficult by the instant gratification philosophy put forth by the Friends show. It did not, nor will it ever make a person better or cooler person 

For most of us, the opportunities to be sexually active at a young age were there, but some of us were too busy being kids, doing kid’s stuff, and as I wrote, we were simply too scared. When this Friends joke came along and told us that if we were truly cool, we should’ve been doing that all along, we regretted being that nerd that was too scared, enjoyed reading fantasy books, and mindlessly enjoyed our youth. We thought we missed out on something fundamental that made them better than us. In truth, such a philosophy will eventually catch up to them when the one thing that separated them from the pack, sexual activity, becomes more and more meaningless to them as they age. Like a drug user, they might vie for more and more of it for more meaningful sexual interactions, to try to recapture the euphoria they felt when they were virgins touched for the very first time. At some point, after a number of ruined marriages and meaningless encounters, they might realize that their life has amounted to nothing more than a series of superficial indulgences that have amounted to nothing more than a superficial life.

That’s another question I might have for these Friends’ types, if I agreed to have sex with my babysitter when I was nine or ten, would sexual interactions prove less meaningful throughout my life, or would it prove so meaningful that I would develop a sexual addiction? Another question, on the same plane, would sex become such a primary driver for me that the rest of the otherwise normal, youthful activities I experienced between 10 and 18 be rendered comparatively meaningless?   

It is for all these reasons that some of us find it difficult to sit quietly through those sci-fi movies that depict an exceptionally gifted, physical men and women who are also an exceptionally gifted intellect. There is just no way, some of us want to shout. Some of them might be smart, for there are always exceptions to the rule, but not that smart, not exceptionally gifted smart. There’s always a trade-off, especially if they’ve been an exceptionally gifted, physical specimen since birth. They wouldn’t need to go through the painstakingly gradual process of developing an exceptional gift that separated them from the pack. They’re already exceptionally gifted physically, and they have been since birth, and we all know there is always a trade-off in this sense.

This trade-off would eventually rear its ugly head if we had the brains of a human, and the eye of the fly, or the hearing of the owl, or the nose of the bloodhound. Something wouldn’t be honed to maximum capacity, for any of these super senses would likely prove to be too much of a distraction to those easily distracted for those young minds undergoing the painstakingly boring, gradual, and humiliating process of human development, and our place atop the animal kingdom would surely be a little more tentative.