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“Floaters are a normal occurrence at your time of life.” I was barely forty. My ophthalmologist was trying to be diplomatic but honest. My stomach dropped. The end was already in sight!
Living well—enjoying healthy foods, plentiful exercise, and loving connections with significant others—enhances and often extends life. But no matter what we do as the years pass, our bodies will show wear and tear. Eventually the invisible expiration date stamped on our backsides comes due.
While scientists seek a pathway for human immortality, we might want to consider what’s good about slowly falling apart. Long ago, I wrote a science fiction novel about a couple that had to choose whether to age normally or spend life always young. I was thinking about the complaints that led my ailing mother-in-law to moan, “The golden years aren’t golden!” Who wouldn’t want to stay forever young?…Me?
Imagine that you could look young until you drop. If you were the only one who was perpetually young, wouldn’t there come a time when the exterior trappings of youth would begin to feel trivial instead of fun? Wouldn’t you grow weary of being “hit upon,” of having to work to be taken seriously? If no one aged, we might all mature into the same pathways we see now. If everyone appeared youthful, who would value it? The society would cherish something else.
Imagine that you could remain energetic indefinitely. After decades of being productive—creating careers and families—you might find that accumulating accolades for your accomplishments, bearing and raising children, and even collecting possessions would stop feeling important. You would’ve been there, done that. Wouldn’t you eventually be happy to stop trying to impress or please anyone? You’d look forward to a time when you could be independent, choosing where and when to spend your final energies. You might want to slow down to relish the moments. Aging will help you slow down. Eventually, physically falling apart makes letting go of this life easier, because you can anticipate a release from possible pain, disability, or loneliness.
As our bodies gradually age, they remind us to get busy being the kind of people we want to be in this life. They sort out the less important aspects of living—such as wealth, beauty, fame, or power—by placing them in contrast with bigger issues such as health and love. When loved ones die, we’re reminded that we need to create love that will live after us—perhaps the only treasure we can take along.
There’s never an easy time to lose people we love, even if we believe the loss is either temporary or an illusion. But those who have lost loved ones “too soon” to trauma or disease can tell you, losing someone after that person has lived a long, full life and appears to be finished is less agonizing. As we fall apart, it’s easier for our loved ones to let go of us physically since there’s no choice. No one wants to watch a loved one suffer. So, whether you choose to keep running until the final bell or quit early, know that aging isn’t entirely a curse. It may grease the transition.