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Gavin MacFadyen: Getting older doesn’t mean getting old

I walked into a fast-food place and the man behind the counter greeted me with a grin and called out, “Hey, young fella!”

A random person calling you “young” is the surest sign you’re not. Later, when I went to the movies, the child selling tickets asked if I was a senior. I shook my head, paid full price and entered the theater with head down, shoulders stooped and arms at my side like the never-to-flap-again wings of a dying bird.

As I mark a half-century, I notice that magazine articles try to offer encouragement by saying that 50 is the new 40. I am old enough to remember when 40 was the new 30.

I am anxiously waiting for the time when dying becomes the new “just napping.”

I get called “sir” a lot. Young women call me “sweetie.” The affection is nice but it’s nature’s way of letting me know that I am no longer looked at as a potential mate. Where I was once John Boy, I am now becoming Grandpa Walton.

But there are good things, too. Walking is now exercise and the contortions I go through to get up from my knees count as yoga. I no longer care if I am in fashion. I still make an effort to put on the full complement of clothes, but I just don’t care in what combination they are. I haven’t yet worn dark socks with dress shoes on the beach, nor pants up to my armpits, but I know that day is coming.

We may as well get the big three out of the way – music is too loud, television is vulgar and young men should pull their pants up.

You also start to doubt yourself. This comes the first time you misplace something. I never worried before that absent-mindedness was a harbinger. Once, in college, I misplaced my roommate for three weeks and thought nothing of it.

But as you get older you begin to wonder how long it will be before you don’t remember your own name or, worse, start to claim that you invented the microwave oven and gravity.

No one playing sports is my age anymore. I could accept getting older if it meant I was getting wiser, but I’m not smarter at all. I still don’t know what “mentholatum” is, I believe Corinthian leather is a real thing and am willing to pay extra at the cleaners for “martinizing” without having a clue what it is.

The thing about being young is that we believe we can be anything. Take a look at any elementary school class and every future is possible.

Anyone can be the next president or major league shortstop, the next Nobel winner or Hollywood sensation. But as the pages of the calendar turn, we think our options dwindle.

But what I’ve come to realize is that we are always getting older – right from the moment we’re born. Every milestone birthday from sweet sixteen and beyond is a passage into new realities and challenges.

And that’s really the key. As long as we continue to believe that the future we want is attainable and worth striving for, then we are just as full of youth as any member of that elementary school class.

It’s not attaining our dreams that keeps us young; it’s continuing to have them.

There’s nothing we can do about getting older but, whether we are 9 or 90, it doesn’t mean we have to get old.