On Aging: A Fine Whine

They say you’re only as old as you feel. Which makes me 21. At least until I do something that reminds me I’m almost 42.

Like look in the mirror.

Regrettably, that happens every morning. And it’s not a great way to start the day.

Skin, once taut, now not.

Body, once hot, now fraught.

Looks, once sought, now naught.

I am losing hair. More disconcerting: I am finding hair.

What in Hēbē’s name is happening?

Welcome to the middle ages. And just like Western civilization in the medieval period proper, things are heading south.

Friends, naturally, try to make me feel better by being fatter, balder and several months older. They look terrible.

Mercifully, we see less of one another these days; gone are the glory days of year-long sojourns in Europe, month-long expeditions to Mexico, and occasional overnighters in the drunk tank.

One of the pervading paradoxes of said days is that glory is almost universally absent. Unless you consider successfully car-surfing down an Austrian mountainside something to celebrate.

We did at the time. Now we cheer baby’s first steps and poop in the potty. We shout: “Do not run down those stairs! What do you mean why? It’s dangerous! Are you trying to break your neck or something?”

There is, of course, no historical record of anyone, anywhere, of any age ever trying to actually break his or her own neck. But you only have to go back one paragraph to find evidence of a guy turning into his own father.

So you listen to me: Pop music is terrible. And if I can hear it, it’s too loud.

And while we’re on the subject: When I was a teenager we didn’t have cellphones to call our friends. We had to use a cordless. With limited range.

And computers? Well that’s how I met your mother, actually – don’t change the subject!

Now … what was I talking about?

This is all very disconcerting. Because it’s only a matter of time until I’m rating restaurants based solely on the quality of the coffee they serve. “I don’t care how many Michelin stars that place has, the coffee is terrible.”

I recently had lunch with an old pal. He has two daughters, one wife and no muscle tone.

“What’s this?” he asked, Buddha-rubbing my belly. “Are you pregnant?” (Note: I’m the same size I was in high school if you stand further back.)

What a jerk.

No matter. And no time to wallow waist-deep in self-pity, because we’re blasting into the past in 3, 2, 1.…

“Hey, remember that time.…”

Insert fascinating flashback.

“We were so wasted.…”

Ten years, six countries and two hours later, the bill arrived. And with it a digestif: “What,” my friend asked, “would you change if it were possible to travel back in time?”

History, probably.

I’d certainly be popular at present-day parties. “Look at this one,” I’d say to a rapt kitchen audience, holding out my iPhone: “It’s me with Genghis Khan. He thought Instagram was dope. Said it made him feel like a professional photographer.”

Eventually, though, a time bandit would tire of living out of an anachronistic suitcase. And what about all those required vaccinations? (Looks like there’s a traveller’s alert for 1918 to 1919: Spanish flu.)

“Nothing,” I replied, draining my beer. (The coffee was terrible.)

“You wouldn’t change a single thing?”

Okay, fine. I’d omit that late-eighties acid-wash/cable-knit fashion phase, steer well clear of frosted tips and be way less enthusiastic about the singing prowess of Milli Vanilli.

I’d also buy a lot of shares in Apple, launch a search engine called Google, a social-networking site called Facebook and a photo-sharing application called Instagram (using a moody self-portrait of Genghis Khan and his horse to hook investors).

Oh, and I’d listen to my dad and buy a house in Vancouver in the early nineties instead of that titanium-silver Ford Mustang 5.0.

“Not a single thing,” I reiterated.

Why? Because, mirrors aside, things are looking pretty good. I’ve got a good job, a great girlfriend and an amazing little boy.

“I don’t want to get big, daddy,” he told me the other night before falling asleep in my arms, “because I won’t be able to reach my toys.”

At that moment, there was nowhere else I’d rather have been.

Let’s face it: Aging sucks. But getting older has its privileges. Yes, we lose time. But we gain experience.

We learn from our mistakes.

For example, the white strands in my hair? Real.

Serenity, my dad tells me, comes with the realization that we are what we are, not what we appear to be or would like to be.

I’m not there yet, but increasingly grateful for what I have.

So what if I can’t afford a lawn? I’d probably just be telling kids to get the hell off of it.

Besides, I heard there’s a gym in my building.

Original essay by Graeme McRanor appeared in the Globe and Mail.

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