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An Excerpt from Gently Down This Dream by Hugh and Gayle Prather

Although it’s hard for people who know me to believe, I went through a good-looking phase. I have pictures to prove it. A full head of hair. The illusion of a waistline. A cleft chin with no mini-chin below.

I worked hard to stretch out my moment of hirsute hunkiness. I did bench presses, ran mega miles, applied Rogaine, and wore blue contacts.

The mirror was my friend. But then midlife kicked in, and it began to betray me. These days, my mirror and I don’t see much of each other, although if my vision gets any worse, I may be able to forgive it.

On the body, everything either sticks out or hangs down. Old age is when it all hangs down. Body parts scream “Get me out of here!” and try to jump overboard. Earlobes plunge toward the shoulders, the chest lands on the stomach, and the stomach stretches so far down that it’s hard to tell the sex of some naked seniors. Fortunately, no one wants to see a naked senior.

Clearly, it’s discourteous to grow old, a sign of ill breeding. Furthermore, it’s an assault on young people’s sensibilities. But since it’s a fairly common fault, you would think that our culture would cut us all a little slack … or a lot. But it doesn’t. The media and entertainment industries treat aging as not only a blunder but a horror. “Fran Fabulous just turned fifty. My four-year-old saw her on TV and hid in the closet.” Old people just shouldn’t do that to children.

I’m sure it’s for the children’s sake that, for the most part, people past a certain age are kept off TV. If inhabitants of another planet were able to pick up our TV signals, they would assume that 80 percent of Earth’s population was between the ages of eighteen and forty. Movies, books, talk shows, and the like focus on the body’s brief blooming period. Even old people don’t want to look at old people.

Clearly, it’s a mistake to grow old, but once that mistake is made, it’s an even greater mistake to fight it. We have a friend who is so fixated on trying to look young that her friends joke that whenever her plastic surgeon has a cancellation, he calls her. She has had everything on her body redone except her navel. She is not a happy person. If she could just accept that she, like all her friends and family, is aging, she would at least have the chance of a little peace of mind.

Unless one’s occupation is tied to looking young, trying to freeze the body in time is a pointless battle. It is happier to relax and be carried along on the same tide as everyone else.

As it gets harder to sleep, the one who lies beside you gets noisier. That’s just the way it is. As taste buds die off and food begins to taste like cardboard, aging intestines force you to eat an ever-blander diet. That’s just the way it is. As balance becomes more of a problem, the bones become more brittle. It’s all so unfair, but that’s just the way it is.

I’m beginning to notice a few unexpected benefits from looking my age. I am anonymous. I am invisible. I can move down a crowded grocery aisle like a ghost. I never did have any fashion sense, but now I don’t feel guilty for not putting more effort into my wardrobe. Most of my shirts and all my pants are basically the same color — but no one notices. I can put on a few pounds or drop a few — no one remembers what I looked like before.

As our preoccupation with our bodies lessens, we find that we can devote our minds to other things, like trying to be a better spouse, parent, grandparent, sibling, and friend. Aging offers us a choice. We can become bitter, or we can become gentler, kinder. If we can walk in gentleness and kindness, the world becomes a more welcoming place to live, regardless of our age or our aches and pains.

Excerpted from the book Gently Down This Dream: Notes on My Sudden Departure ©2023 by Hugh and Gayle Prather. Printed with permission from New World Library —

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