Back in the extreme sport-filled days of my youth in America, I once came across a sticker that depicted a skeleton emblazoned with the words, “You are what I was, I am what you will be”. Always aware of my own mortality even back then, those words stuck with me. We’re all born, and we all eventually die, but it’s what we do in between that really matters. In that regard, and though those random acts of kindness do leave their mark, it only really matters to those who remember us.
I have interwoven truth with a healthy smattering of nonsense in these blog postings, all in the hope of getting a few laughs, mostly from my wife. Sure, I’ll take the occasional snicker/eye-roll from anyone who mistakenly stumbles across this website, but not only do I not know them, they don’t constantly have to put up with my tomfoolery which will surely only increase as I get older. Being a man who relies on his wife for essentially everything, this does not bode well for my future survival, so I have compiled a to do list:
1). Buy Eve something nice.
2). Tell her that we won the lottery so she won’t leave me, and to justify recent nice purchase.
3). Sell a kidney.
4). Realize too late that having only one kidney drastically reduces one’s life span. Immediately regret selling kidney.
5). Start a GoFundMe campaign to buy back kidney. Name missing kidney “Sidney” to increase cuteness factor and elicit empathy and money from Australians. Make millions.
6). Buy Eve something nice.
If we can’t make the ones we love laugh, then what is the point of life? Though one could make a strong argument for tacos, I would say that helping others feel joy is the point of life. We are all inherently social creatures, after all, and so we naturally want to make those around us feel cheerful. More buoyant, if you will, in a world where forces outside our control are constantly weighing us down. If you can add tacos to the equation, then so much the better.
There are two certainties about growing old: (1) Aging is a force and (2) one need not practice: we will age without much more effort than simply staying alive.
This is easier in some locales than others, of course. For example, the gun laws in Germany are quite strict and so your odds of being shot here are rather low. Should you live in Georgia, however, where I lived for eight years and where people often only put down their beers so they pick up their guns before muttering, “Watch this”, you are doomed and should immediately leave Wal-Mart.
Interestingly, should one practice getting older, those efforts will affect the force of one’s own aging. As with everything in life, practice makes perfect, right? The expression in German is, “Ubung macht der Meister” (practice makes the master).
Naturally, there are several forces that affect the human body the more time it spends on earth, but the forces that I am specifically referring to are gravity and…
That’s right, I mean the same x-wing levitating, “why-not-use-it-to-turn-off-Darth’s-lightsaber” force that made Obi Wan benevolently powerful, and that Anakin turned away from. Both it and gravity affect the body, but in starkly opposing and unequal ways. Plus, had Luke used the Force when he should have, he would still have a hand that he would surely need in his old age. Using a walker one-handed must be no easy feat, even for a Jedi named Sky-walker. Okay, that was bad.
You may ask, “Is he really going to try to combine gravity, the practice of aging, and Star Wars cohesively into the same article? What a boob”. The answer, of course, is, “There is no try, only do”.
Press on, young Padawan. Jedi knighthood, and a pair of arch-supportive German-made sandals, await. And that’s Master Boob to you.
Unencumbered by the heavy burden of experience, and buoyed by their own helium-filled thoughts of idealism, the young can often seem to defy gravity. They live it UP. They stay UP late, but can still jump UP and out of bed the next morning. They even often raise their middle fingers UP in response to anything an older person might say…like using the expression live it up.
Alas, and as Newton has taught us, what goes up must come down. That’s right; they screw UP. Mr. Eliot had it right when it comes to adults, but he was off in regards to teenagers and twenty-somethings: their worlds end only sometimes with a whimper; more often it’s with a resounding bang. Whether it’s a free-fall from a cliff with a snowboard strapped to their feet, or picking a fight with the wrong person, their demise is often caused by either not fully understanding gravity, or the gravity of a situation.
They say that life is a terminal illness, and aches and pains are it’s symptoms. Along with an affinity for sensible shoes, I suppose. To this end, I now wear Clark’s and Birkenstocks. Since I am only in my forties, I find them both stylish and orthopedic. Because I am still, er… relatively young, I am not ready to go all-in for the doctor-prescribed hospital-beige shoes, though my teenage self would still laugh at me…and then go right back to cliff-diving or whatever other stupid thing young-me would have thought of. Young me was a jerk.
Now, as disturbing as the thought of non-existence is, I have been assured that everyone dies, and that I should accept it as fate; That it’s simply a part of “the circle of life”.
Pffftt. What kind of Lion King crap is that? Okay, though I do have the sudden urge now and then to hold my baby daughter up for all of the Pride Lands to see, I do not intend to go gently into that good night. Dylan Thomas was spot on. I intend to fight that dying light with every fiber of my being as I want to spend as much time as possible with my family. Okay, and maybe eat a thousand or so more tacos. If that means that the nurses have to chase me around the old folks home someday, stark naked because I made a break for it during my sponge bath, then so be it. I prefer to air dry anyway: Towels will probably only chafe my aging and sensitive skin.
Since we’re on the topic of forces, I may as well touch on the force of cashing in one’s chips. Assuming that Eve won’t just get tired of my grumpiness and wheel me to the curb on bio day to be collected with the other organic waste, I foresee the following scenario as my likely exit. Hopefully this occurs in forty or so years and not a few weeks from now:
I will be enjoying a relaxing lunch and, having sensed the inevitable, will gently set my Rädler down on my outside café table before inconspicuously grabbing my chest and falling face-first into my Spätzle. The sound-absorbent nature of the sauce-drenched pasta would dull the sound, of course, and so my fellow diners may not even notice.
“Oh, how cute” a young couple might say. “That large-nosed old man just feel asleep in his lunch. It looks like he’s missed his nap”. Enamored with old age from having watched The Notebook one too many times, and as only the young can because they haven’t yet sprained their backs while performing the arduous task of putting on underwear, they may even be so enchanted that they might pay my check. A sweet thought, really.
But not really. Because, this is Germany. Waiters here don’t shoo you away like flies before you’ve finished chewing so that they can seat the next tip like they do in the States. They earn a livable wage and so the 10% tip is just icing on the cake. As long as you are still seated at the table, you will be left alone and so if you were to pass into the great beyond while dining here, you would remain there, like me; face-down in your food until the waiters shoo the flies away from you.
Gravity exerts it’s force not just on sky-bound skateboarders: After age 40 or so, it reminds us of its power every time we look in the mirror. Our skin sags. Our arches flatten. We have band-aids on our elbows because we fell down after the toaster scared us.
This natural evidence is less evident on many Americans, however, as the US spends untold billions each year fighting gravity. They get a nip here and a tuck there. They buy snake oil in the form of fat-loss pills. They get hair transplants, liposuction, and collectively buy enough skin cream to fill an ocean. Due to the vast amount of money spent, and because it made me giggle more than it should have, I have dubbed this ocean of youth the “Bankrupt-Sea”. Giggle.
Germans, on the other hand, do not fight aging. They kind of lean into it, in fact. Like house-bound Frank Sinatra clones with the flu, German males over the age of thirty can be seen shuffling around anywhere in the world wearing sandals with socks, and with fedoras perched atop their thinning pates. They essentially practice getting older, and this sits just fine with me.
Like my German brethren, I too have decided to meet my fate head-on and so have also decided to wade into the waters of geriatrics that I will be immersed in soon enough, head bobbing like a barnacle encrusted buoy wearing a bathing cap. Like with any body of water, you don’t want to jump in and find that the water is ice cold and have a shock-induced heart attack. Best to ease into it.
Here are a few ways that you too can get your feet wet and embrace your inner German fuddy-duddy, regardless of your actual age:
1). Start drinking your breakfast. The traditional Bavarian breakfast is Weißwurst (white sausage), a pretzel, and a tall glass of Weißbier (white beer, but really wheat beer). If Wheaties is the breakfast of champions, than drinking wheat beer is the breakfast of those who have realized that being a champion takes way too much effort.
2). Cut in line at any queue. Whether it be the line for the Bäckerei (bakery) or the Metzger (butcher), feign ignorance while trying to slip unobtrusively to the front and start placing your order. I mean, who knows how long you have left? Plus, you drank your Wheaties this morning which means you have both the courage and the bleary-eyed and confused countenance to pull it off.
3). Wear hats.They protect you from the sun, and hide your thinning hair. No, not a ball cap. You’re shooting for German senior citizen, not middle-aged American dad. You need a real hat, i.e.; a Trachtenhut. They are made from wool, have brims and, if you are a sassy Mann, even come with a feather. There you go, you saucy peacock. You can now strut confidently to the front of any line.
4). Drink your lunch. That Weißbier has probably worn off by now and you’re most likely feeling the grumble in your belly, if not your liver. To truly fit in among the aged elite here in Deutschland, you really must have an ice cold Pilsner with your traditional Mittagessen Bratwurst. Because Brats are renown for being as salty as they are fatty, you should definitely have a 2ndbeer.
5). Carry a cane. Ah, the cane. The pinnacle accessory of senior citizenry, it enables you to walk without falling down, and is great for whacking anyone who tells you to get to the back of the line.
6). Or two. Should you be an over-achiever, you can have two canes rather than just one. I have heard that they are also gaining popularity in America, but walking poles are all the rage here. Essentially ski poles with smaller baskets, they are used in an outdoor phenomenon called “Nordic Walking” where middle-aged and older Germans walk around with them one of two ways:
- 1). By slowly dragging them from limp arms behind their exhausted bodies.
- 2). In an overly-animated fashion where the hands are vigorously thrust up to eye level on every stride, and with such force on the downstroke that the tips leave little dents…in the pole-draggers that have given up.
7). Do not obey the rules of the road. You’ve been drinking for half the day, so what better thing to do than get behind the wheel of a car. Don’t worry; it’s not as difficult as you might think since you don’t have to signal, nor drive over the speed of 12 KPH. It’s so bad here that you’d think that cars sold to anyone over the age of 65 aren’t equipped with turn signals nor gas pedals. The truth, however, is that the breakfast and lunch beers have a lot to do with it: It takes immense concentration to do the one-eyed drive while wearing bifocals, and so they must drive slowly and with both hands glued to the wheel in a death-grip. Or rather, a fear-of-death-grip.
8). Sit. Nothing feels quite as good as a good sit after half a day of dragging your cane(s) around with a three beer buzz. Luckily for you, there are benches to sit on here in Germany approximately every 10 meters. Unluckily for you, these might as well be mirages in a desert as they are often populated with teenagers drinking beer and listening to music that is anything but Frank Sinatra. Heathens, to be sure. You have two options: Keep walking, or fight. That cane you’re carrying is good for more than just enforcing your right to cut in line.
9). Take naps. Seemingly popular everywhere except the US where they are seen as sign of weakness, naps are nature’s reset button. A brief ten minute snooze and most people are ready to power through the rest of their days. But you are not them, are you? No, you are a powerful over-achieving specimen that most likely opted for two poles, right? You can do more. Take a twenty minute nap and show those other slouches who’s boss.
10). Impose your opinion on/judge anyone. You have reached your old age through Entschlossenheit (determination) and not taking Scheiße from anyone, and you’re not about to start now. You have earned the right to force your opinions on anyone brazen enough to look or behave differently than you. That guy with the tattoos? A criminal. That woman begging for change? Surely a leech who would rather pan-handle than work. You know all of this because of your life experience, right?
So, do you feel good about all you’ve accomplished today? No, of course you don’t. Or at least you shouldn’t. You have a headache, dents in your Mercedes, and you’ve probably pulled a muscle from bludgeoning people with your cane(s). But fret not my wrinkled, friend-less, and possibly incarcerated warrior. There is a another way…
The force of gravity affects not just the body, but the mind as well. Like sagging body parts, the mind also droops as surely as one’s neck skin. The mind can easily get pulled down into a less than harmonious state of being where one becomes pernicious and mean. This is the Dark Side of aging and the above examples are the many ways that we can succumb to its power. For example, Yoda was the paramount example of a cane-wielding ancient and, though Luke may have occasionally deserved it, he rarely struck anyone. The emperor, on the other hand, clearly had unresolved issues and smote anyone who wasn’t on board with his maniacal plans or opinions. Sound familiar?
Rather than embracing the Dark Side, you can become one with the Force and circumvent becoming a grumpy old fart. Though wearing hats, taking naps, and carrying a cane are always good ideas, the following revisions to the list above will help you turn the tide in the war against aging like a complete tool, at least in Germany:
1). Still drink your breakfast and lunch…but make it a Schorle instead. As Hefeweizen is often garnished with a slice of citrus, having an orange juice mixed with bubbly water (Orangensaft Schorle) in the morning will essentially give you the same taste, but without the ill-desired after-effect of yelling at people for no apparent reason. Having a Johannisbeer (currant juice) Schorle with your lunch better satisfies the thirst, plus the tartness cuts through the Brat’s fat and the vitamin C is good for your eyes which helps you to continue driving instead of losing your license by playing drunken parked car pinball after those morning beers you used to drink.
2). Trade your Kater for a Kater. A Kater is a hang-over, or an alcohol-induced headache. A Kater is also a male cat. By getting a real cat, you will have companionship and so may actually start thinking about something other than yourself. Better yet, get a dog. Unlike a cat, they are actually happy to see you, which makes you happy, and won’t scratch the living daylights out of your leg for no reason, which will make you not-happy. Plus, dogs can be trained to retrieve your slippers or, better yet, someone else’s slippers, preferably that lovely widow’s next door. Good boy.
3). Ride a bike.Should you decide to not heed my advice and opt for the morning and vormittag (late morning) beers, opt instead to ride your bicycle instead of driving your car. Crashing a bike into a parked vehicle or someone else causes much less injury. It also takes much more coordination than driving a car, which means that I get to laugh at you when you lose your balance and fall over.
4). Wait your darn turn. We know that you are in a hurry, but so is everyone else. Instead of trying to cut in front of someone, try talking to the young person next to you. It will make the time go by faster, and you will have gained a friend. A younger and, hopefully, fit friend who can also tackle the other old guy who tries to cut in line.
5). Don’t hit anyone. I know this sounds crazy, but people don’t actually like being hit with canes. This is evident from the sounds that come from them while being hit, and from them eventually not making any sounds at all. Rather than raising your weapon, instead try talking to anyone who has drawn your ire. You may be surprised to find that that hooligan whom you thought was touching your fanny was in actuality just trying to help you catch your balance. If you find your wallet in their hand afterward, then commence with the pummeling, by all means.
6). Don’t judge anyone. Though it may be difficult to take seriously that man with the tattoos, or the woman begging for change, realize that there is likely more to their stories. Those tattoos that you don’t agree with may just be an homage to that man’s son who passed away. That woman may be a refugee who can’t yet work here, but still has to feed her family.
The bottom line is, it’s easy to become cranky in one’s old age. Everything hurts, the new music is too loud and too terrible, and you can never seem to remember what you, um… were about to…
What was I talking about?
Regardless, and even though getting old is about as much fun as being thrown into Sarlaac’s pit, it’s better than the alternative, right? And until that alterative happens, it’s far better to have patience and to be kind to people. Like I said in the beginning, what we do really only matters to those who remember us.
To this end, I too have begun to change my ways. I am trying to become more patient. More understanding. More at one with the positive force of aging. It’s not easy though, and since old habits die hard, here is a fair warning which is also a quote from Yoda:
“If you try to cut in front of me in the taco line, whack you on the head I will”.