Last night I went to the Pilates class again to try to slow the creep of stiffness and the curve of spine that comes from slouching over a computer all day. The instructor, a woman my own age who can twist herself into a pretzel, quoted Joseph Pilates, the patriarchal founder of the regimen, as saying that you are only as old as your spine. So, quit slouching.
A lot of us, 40 million or so, are beginning to look like our fathers, but we are not accepting it quite so gently. We spend around $50 billion a year on anti-aging products. Is it just my faulty memory or did our fathers seem to become middle aged a decade younger than us and grandfatherly by their early fifties? Now we wear jeans to work on Fridays.
When I was younger I was more concerned with dying than with aging. I owe some of that to the 19th century Romantic poets who all expected to die young and often did. You don’t have to worry about growing old if you die of tuberculosis in your twenties. But also there was the plague that was killing young men all around me in San Francisco in the 1980s. That was cause to look at mortality with a shiver. Then there was the great book, Denial of Death, by Ernest Becker, which convinced me that all our culture is based on the attempt to escape our knowledge of our inevitable demise.
But somehow I have survived the motorcycle wreck and the slip on the waterfall in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the lung cancer that took my father in his fifties, and the inexplicable diseases that killed off three young friends inside a year in San Francisco. Now I watch my cholesterol and try to sit up straight in front of my computer screen.
A lot has been discovered in recent years in regard to aging. The diseases of aging are being attacked and the errors that pile up in the cells over time are being studied and soon may be erased. Another generation, probably not my own, may live to a healthy hundred and ten.
Aubrey de Grey, the long-bearded prophet of long life, lists seven causes of aging, which, when cured, will let us live as long as Methuselah, which is about a thousand years. Many scoff, but some stay to pray at his Methuselah Foundation. None of his seven types of damage have a treatment yet, though various fruit flies, mice, and worms have been induced to increased lifespan in the lab.
My generation seems to have traded a longer life for more years of decrepitude, the worst of both worlds. We live longer but are sicker, with obesity and diabetes as the main culprits. A study done a few years ago shows that our parents were healthier at a similar age, though at least we smoke less. We also exercise less and eat more.
I ignore the elevator and walk up the long flight of stairs to my office, hoping I am holding off the time when I will hobble to the elevator with my walker. I square my shoulders in the approved Pilates way and straighten my spine, but still my faulty cells decline.
Walt Mills can be reached at email@example.com or at P.O. Box 174, Spring Mills, PA 16875