The old something is the new something else
This observation is not new, or insightful. It’s even a little cliché, and I’m sure many of you have thought about it before. All I’ve done here is solve the mystery. Your gratitude is the only reward I seek.
It started with Pete Carroll, so he gets a little credit. Pete Carroll, the head coach of our very own Seattle Seahawks.
Pete Carroll, who marks his 62nd birthday this week, a fact that didn’t escape the attention of the TV announcers for last Sunday’s game, and thus didn’t escape mine, although you might have missed it.
There’s probably still time to send a card.
I find Pete Carroll an interesting guy to watch. Unlike a lot of NFL coaches, he’s not over-animated, wearing his anxiety on his sleeve and then wiping that sleeve on his face.
He doesn’t look like a guy who’s one fumble away from clutching his chest and being carried off the field, soon to show up in some medical drama on another network. He’s not stoic, but he seems calm.
And fit. He’s lean and moves quickly, with a full head of hair and a relatively unlined face. For 62, he looks great, healthy and energetic.
But let’s be fair. He looks pretty great for 42, too, and thus we have my observation, which, again, you’ve probably already observed.
And it would be this: Some people seem to have decided not to age in the accepted ways, and it’s confusing the rest of us.
With many decades of serious human aging research to look at, although I did not actually look at any, it’s clear that something has changed. It became my mission, then, to nail down exactly when, or at least find the tipping point.
See, there used to be rules. In our 20s, a person was supposed to experiment, continue our education, and change our hairstyles a lot. Our 30s were all about a search for stability, for better jobs, families, etc.
Our 40s were all about gray hair and not being able to read small print. In our 50s, we were supposed to put the brakes on and shore up the IRAs.
And in our 60s, we would perfect the art of napping, which would pretty much take up the rest of our lives.
And that’s the way it was. There were certain exceptions, but most of us followed the rules. We understood the stages of life, we knew where we were, we behaved ourselves, and we dressed appropriately.
I have a picture of my grandfather on his 60th birthday. He looks the way he was supposed to. Old. A little stooped, a much-loved relic, surrounded by grandchildren.
I cannot, even with my eyes closed, imagine him on a skateboard.
If you think 60-year-olds don’t get on skateboards these days, you just haven’t Googled it yet.
Also: Old people can Google, you know.
But family photos weren’t going to figure this out. I needed a singularity, a moment in which age became infinite, a relative state in which people can look any way they want and the rest of us feel ugly and old. I needed a movie star.
They have an influence, you know. In 1983, when Jack Nicholson appeared in “Terms of Endearment,” all the buzz was how the 46-year-old actor was comfortable with letting himself age. He had the gut, the thinning hair, the romantic relationship with a slightly older woman. He knew the rules.
But a few years ago, a photograph swept across the planet, helped along by a popular film.
Actress Helen Mirren, the star (and Oscar winner) for “The Queen,” in which she played a much older monarch, was captured in a red bikini on a beach somewhere.
It wasn’t salacious or even titillating, just a photo of a remarkably trim, attractive, and fit-appearing woman of a certain age, which would be roughly mid-60s.
And millions of male-type people (and plenty of females, too) around the world held two contradictory thoughts at the same time: “She’s hot!” and “She’s the same age as grandma!”
And the walls came tumbling down.
That’s my theory, anyway. Helen Mirren changed the world, and from now on the rest of us will age at our own peril, knowing there are alternatives. Now we can choose.
Not that we will. Aging gracefully takes work, assuming an equal genetic field (it’s not equal).
It’s easier to let nature take its course, to avoid the gym and the comb-over, to accept gravity and gray, to appreciate the finer points of rocking chairs and pieces of cake. To nap like a pro.
Sometimes other people will help us along. I recently spent some time with a couple of young, smart, talented and beautiful women.
We talked a lot, and they laughed at my jokes and gazed into my eyes with interest, obviously falling under my spell, and then each of them, during separate conversations, lightly touched my arm and said, “You remind me so much of my dad.”
So it’s not hard to slip into the proper roles, but again: It seems no longer inevitable. Pete Carroll surely works at staying in shape, as does Ms. Mirren.
I suspect I’m more like Jack Nicholson, comfortable with where I stand, although I’m about to become a grandfather. It’s possible I’ll rethink this, so if you see me on a skateboard, try to understand.
If I’m wearing a red bikini, call my wife.