As You Grow Older, Believe Me You Don't Get Any Younger

There are more people over 65 than ever before. And yet Americans seem to resent old age. The beautiful people downright hate it. Among those who never reached it: Alexander the Great (33), Mozart (35), Byron (36), Raphael and Van Gogh (37), Virgil (50), Shakespeare (52). Cicero said, “Old age begins at 46.” He died at 53.

Our strength and coordination peaks at 19…skeletal maturity in our early 20s….IQ is highest between 18 & 25…stamina dips by the early 30s …creativity slows by the late 30s. By 50, according to George Orwell, “Everyone has the face he deserves.” He died at 47.

What are young people to make of these data? Old people have already begun reconciling to them. Weight, wrinkles, memory loss are aging’s unforgiving companions. Debbie Reynolds, one of Hollywood’s perennial juveniles, nailed it: “Gravity sucks” Bette Davis, one of Hollywood’s perennial heroines, added the exclamation mark: “Aging ain’t for sissies!”

There is some measure of consolation. When you’re 45, your vocabulary is three times as large as at 20. When you are 60, your brain possesses four times the information it did at 20. Time has happened, life has happened. As a consequence, you may not be wiser but at least you are less surprised.

Is there some common denominator both youth and age can share in this free enterprise culture?

In ” My Dinner With Andre,” Wallace says: “I grew up on the Upper East Side, and when I was 10 I was rich. An aristocrat riding around in taxis, surrounded by comfort, and all I thought about was art and music. Now I’m 36 and all I think about is money.”

In America, age, family name, caste, and inherited land have never quite become the crown to treasure and to wear. Wealth has. And so — be we young or old, strong or weak — wealth has remained the one enduring national gospel. The next question is: Does it make it easier to sleep at night? Or does it simply mean that Wallace has more time in which to fear its loss?

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