LOS ANGELES — No one wants to get old. Too many wrinkles and incontinence are not cherished prizes in the "getting old sweepstakes". Neither is having difficulty bending over to tie your shoes, having to increase the television volume daily, and having to eat only soft foods.
Be warned. These time-consuming regiments can create absolutely ridiculous results. Some of our most cherished celebrities have become almost unrecognizable. Their new faces are pulled so tight with lips so puffed they look like alien caricatures of someone we used to know.
One of the benefits of aging is that with age comes wisdom. Every older person has a history, a personal story from which we can all learn. Sadly, we seem to pass them by, not wanting to be reminded that we too will be where they are someday. Old age is inevitable. We fear it. There are old people everywhere: along Rodeo Drive, at the nearby Ralph's, waiting at the bus stop, sitting at Starbucks, hiking the canyons, and living next door. How many times have you ever stopped to smile and say hello?
Years ago, there was a retired man named Bill who volunteered where I worked. He was funny, nice, and dedicated to helping others. I always enjoyed listening to his often ribald jokes and life stories.
After I left that job, I would occasionally see him walking his dog, a small little pooch no more than 12 pounds. Then one day I moved to a new neighborhood, and lo and behold, there was Bill out walking his dog. He was living across the street from me.
Over the next year, I could time my day according to Bill. When I woke up, I would look out and there was Bill walking his dog. When I'd be sitting by my computer daydreaming (when I should have been typing that brilliant manuscript I've been bragging about), I'd look out and there would be Bill. After lunch, before dinner, and every night just before the prime time television shows, I could always count on looking out and seeing Bill. Sometimes he was quite spry, and sometimes he would shuffle along at a snail's pace. For a man in his 80's, he appeared to be doing well.
Sometimes I found myself looking out the window, hoping to see him. I guess you could say we were friends from a distance. He became a gentle reminder of my own family back East. My parents are getting older and less mobile. I found comfort in knowing that as long as I saw Bill, I knew my own parents were doing okay.
Then one day I didn't see him. I laughed, thinking that my schedule, my rhythm, was all messed up. Then it continued the next day and then the next. I began to wonder. Then the news came. Bill had passed away. I heard he went peacefully.
Now as I go about my day, there's a little void. No more will I see Bill and his dog and try to determine who is walking whom. No more will I see my distant friend, my pleasant distraction. I miss him. Today I called my parents just to say hello.
This morning I noticed a gray hair. I wanted to yank it out, but then I decided to let it be. I figured it symbolizes my maturity, my own personal history. I was proud of it.
A few hours later I had my daily protein drink, put on a baseball cap and headed to the gym. Then I had a massage and a facial and ate a Power Bar. I feel fit and young!
Tonight that hair is coming out. I'll embrace my maturity later.
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