The Declining Expectations of Aging

September 16th was my 64th birthday. As I grow older, I am beginning to face the declining expectations of aging. I can’t do as many physical things that I could do 5, 10 or 20 years ago. My shoulder hurts at night. My elbow hurts during the day if I hold it a certain way for too long.

I can still walk a mile on the treadmill at a fairly good clip but running is out (it was never in). Growing old is a real pain. When you’re in your teens or twenties, you don’t consider that your body has a limited guarantee. God made us with planned obsolescence to make room for our descendents. Otherwise, it would get awful crowded here.

As your body ages, you begin to encounter declining expectations. Once upon a time, I wanted to be an astronaut. Didn’t every boy who grew up in the Sputnik generation. Watch the movie, October Sky, to see how a couple of real-life West Virginia boys followed their dream of launching a rocket.

I thought about attending West Point and got as far as the physical at Governors Island in New York Harbor. I’m sure that my parents were glad that I let that dream go. It would have put me in the middle of the Vietnam War leading an infantry platoon.

I followed my father into his business and had a successful career making enough money for my family to live a comfortable life. Yet, today I regret not pursuing a life in academia. So I write on several different blogs.

I always enjoyed writing and I’m glad that I can do it now, despite being a terrible typist. In fact, the all-boys high schools that I attended didn’t offer a course in typing. So, I pick and peck at a decent speed. It gives me a chance to think about my writing rather than speeding through it.

Decisions that we make at an early age will affect our lives going forward. If I had persevered with a West Point career, my life would have been totally different. I could have been killed in a Vietnamese rice paddy or become a general. I could have been disappointed and left the military after five years. I could be teaching history at some university or writing books full-time.

We live in a world of alternate realities. Not the science fiction kind but different life tracks based on minor decisions that we make as teenagers or twenty-somethings. Many of our decisions are made by us, just one individual deciding on what life path to take.

I decided on the college that I wanted to attend. My parents would willingly give me advice (I’m the oldest of five) but the final decision was mine and mine alone. If I didn’t like it, I had no one to blame but myself. I opted for the life of a commuter because I have four younger siblings who would need to go to college too. I balanced a good school that was less expensive so that my parents could afford to send them too.

So here I am at 64 with my declining expectations. I joke that my bad elbow will keep me from pitching in the World Series but in truth I was never much of an athlete. My father was the great athlete and talent must skip a generation because my nephews are all pretty determined to be good.

As I write this I can admit that I have a good life. Sure, I’d like to win the lottery and retire to some tropical country but that’s not going to happen. I have a great wife who has supported me through a lot of travails and a smart daughter who actually remembered to send me a funny birthday card. I have three pet cats who I’m very attached to and I live in a beautiful house (that I’d love to sell). I may be aging but my expectations are not declining in this part of my life.

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