As an armchair philosopher, I have determined three facets of human psychology that distinguish children from adults. Mind you, you will read nothing in this list about a chronological age as we all know that some people never seem interested in growing up just as some never seem interested in having a childhood. The three facets that distinguish adult thinking are the ability to synthesize seemingly disparate information, the ability to anticipate, and the ability to conceptualize one’s own mortality. As a mortalist (yes, my own word), I have used this blog space to offer some thoughts on the subject of death and the ways in which people decide to spend or waste their time. But as a separate exercise, I occasionally find myself trying on my old man suit.
Simply put, as a subset of indexing the many ways I might die, I sometimes “suit up” in one of the many physical, mental, or social afflictions that could plague my “golden” years. So for instance, what does arthritis feel like? If I was unfortunate enough to have Alzheimer’s Disease, what would it feel like to “come back” from an episode and begin recognizing loved ones again; is the slipping into an episode frightening or welcome? Will my wife die before me or vice versa? Less dramatically, how will I handle it when I realize that I’m being humored in a conversation solely based on my age? If I have a heart attack and survive, how would I remember the pain? Which major system of my body will be the one to turn against me?
Of course, inherent in all these scenarios is the assumption that I will make it past, say 60, and having made it, will not die suddenly compliments of the proverbial bus about which so many seem to fantasize. I think we can agree that dying suddenly has its advantages, principal of which is avoiding a long drawn out illness and the burdens that it would place on caregivers. But statistically, most people do not die suddenly. Over time, most of us will author our own ever growing list of aches, lapses, and minor procedures. How do we carry ourselves with dignity? Can a regimen of exercise and healthy eating now put us in good stead? All these questions and projections are part of the phenomenon of trying on my old man suit. And similarly to my reasoning for playing through my own death, I think that these adventures can better prepare you mentally for the road ahead. As I’ve offered before, by grappling with these probabilities now, perhaps there can be fewer surprises later. “Old man, take a look at my life, I’m a lot like you-” Neil Young.