I turned 78 last month. I would not say “celebrated” because for years I have tried to ignore my chronological age.

My healthy constitution has allowed this myopia. I have long been pegged by others at about 10 to 15 years younger than my age. And I am free from the usual aches, pains and disorders that plague others.

But FaceTime and Zoom are piercing this self-deception. If nothing else, the camera and mirror do not lie. My skin is that of an old lady: full of skin tags, crepe paper crinkles on my arms, drooping folds in my face and discoloration everywhere. I no longer bother with makeup since I rarely go out, except to the supermarket. So I simply avoid looking at these revealing images. Better not to dwell on how I look to others and live in my oasis of eternal youth. In my head, I am 35. Maybe 40.

I have done nothing to merit this relatively youthful state. I loathe exercise. I eat when I feel hungry and avoid kale and other trendy health foods. I am just genetically lucky. For now. Both my parents died in their mid-80s, my grandfather in his 90s. So I expect the same. Even luck only lasts so long.

What old age does not halt is a change in the way one thinks about life. I no longer plan lengthy trips, both because I don’t have the energy for traipsing across endless airports and because who knows what shape I will be in by then. Frankly, I am happier just staying put in my pretty little house. Reading, stroking my Maine coon cat, streaming Netflix, etc. If it is windy and colder than 50 degrees, I rarely venture out. You could call this a boring, lonely life, livened only by calls to friends (my immediate family is largely gone) and occasional movies and Unitarian services. So far, I have been spared many funerals and memorial services, but enough friends and relatives are ailing that I see a cascade on the horizon, unless I go first.

Most telling, old age affects one’s sense of the future. Not only that I will not be there, but that it will be worse for everyone than the present. Fear of the next great extinction (which appears to be inevitable) is not limited to old people, but we are more aware of the losses the world has already suffered since our own youth, from the decline of fireflies, bats and horseshoe crabs to cold winters and cool summer nights.


More important, we are keenly aware of the destruction of civility in the public square. The vitriol that fills public demonstrations and social media is not just distasteful; it is a sign of the breakdown of modern civilization. The ignorance of large swaths of society is profoundly depressing, and there is no sign of its letting up. Of course, there are oases of kindness. That’s why I started attending the local Unitarian church, which is dedicated to helping others. But their numbers are small compared to the madmen filling the streets.

Trumpism is just a sign of the times. It would not thrive if the conditions were not ripe. People have become more self-centered, ignorant of the blessings of a true democracy, and dismissive of the toll their harsh words and actions take, not only in their communities but worldwide. That is what I see as an old lady.

My father used to say that his father, the one who lived into his 90s, had a optimistic view of civilization. A refugee from the pogroms of Czarist Russia at the turn of the last century, he believed that the arc of history bends toward the improvement of the lot of mankind. He witnessed the expansion of the right to vote, the liberation of oppressed people and rising economic equality. But he also lived through the Depression and World War II and the Holocaust, albeit from the safety of America.

How did he remain an optimist? I wish I could ask him. I could use some of that optimism now. We all need it so that we do not give up. The alternative is to give up on people – and on ourselves.

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