COLUMN: Coming to terms with getting older

Crescent Beach retiree reflects on age, and what happens as you get older

By Jack Hartline, Special to the Peace Arch News

The first time I realized I was getting old –  and might not live forever, after all –  happened on a tennis court in California nearly 50 years ago.

It was just days after my 30th birthday and, when I innocently picked up a stray ball from the court next door and tossed it back, one of the young whippersnappers playing there shouted:

“Thank you, sir!”

It was the first time anybody called me “sir.” It felt like a slap in the face and it was all I could do to croak out a weak: “You’re welcome!”

I suddenly felt about 60 years old, and I feebly lost the next three games with little more than a whimper.

A few lightning-speed years later, my 40th birthday came and went with surprisingly less angst than expected, and on my 50th birthday, my wife threw me a rollicking surprise party that I barely remember –  but everybody told me that I had a really terrific time.

Several weeks after turning 60, however, I got hit in the face again when a pretty young girl offered me her seat on a crowded bus. I was so shocked and embarrassed that I pretended I was getting off at the next stop.

The unkindest cut of all, though, came in the mail a couple of months before my recent 80th birthday, which I had been dreading more than any other.

Although my wife and daughter kept telling me it was “ just a number,” I couldn’t help thinking that it was a really BIG number.

Others tried to tell me “50 is the new 40” and “60 is the new 50,” but I have never ever heard anybody claim “80 is the new 70.” Never.

Which is why the totally unexpected letter I got from the Department of Motor Vehicles seemed like the biggest slap in the face. Noting I would soon be 80, it said if I didn’t get a medical exam within 45 days, my driver’s licence would be null and void.

As if that weren’t enough, a few days later I got a snarky letter from my bank, informing me my personal accident-prevention coverage would terminate “because you have reached the maximum age under this coverage.” I didn’t even know I had any such coverage, but they could have let me down a little more gently –  maybe thanking me for my business and adding a simple “Happy Birthday!”

I thought the use of the word “terminate” was a bit insensitive, as well.

On top of all that, I found out around the same time that if I was a Cardinal in the Catholic Church, I wouldn’t be allowed to vote for the new pope because I was 80. Talk about adding insult to injury…

One of the other disturbing things about turning 80 is that every time I read about some famous person dying these days, the age always seems to be between 82 and 88. Surviving the 80s is looking more and more like trying to stumble through a minefield.

I can’t really complain too much, though. I’ve been pretty lucky with my health so far – knock on wood! – and I’m still hoping to live to be at least 100.

However, a less optimistic friend of mine, who is actually three months younger, told me 10 years ago that we were both already on “The Final Glidepath.” I shudder to think how far along we are today, but I’ve warned him repeatedly if he tries to push me off, I will drag him down with me.

Considering the alternative, I am happy to finally be an official card-carrying octogenarian, even though it doesn’t sound nearly as sexy as the septuagenarian I was just a few weeks ago.

(Septuagenarian had a vaguely intriguing man-of-mystery ring to it; octogenarian sounds like a cranky old man.)

Oh to be 79 again…

Jack Hartline is a lifelong newspaperman and a Crescent Beach retiree.