Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Facts & Arguments Essay

The government says I'm old Add to ...

There it was. The envelope looked like so many other government communications. It could have been a tax assessment notice or GST statement.

But this one was different. The message enclosed was that my first Old Age Security Pension cheque would arrive next month. My old-age pension cheque! How could that be? I'm not old - older, maybe, but not old.

More Related to this Story

I did recently celebrate my 65th birthday with a low-key family dinner just like so many before, except now there are no parents with us but there are two grandchildren. Time marches on.

I clearly remember my mother-in-law telling my wife and me that she was still young inside, and her brain remained 25 even as her body aged. She was in her 70s. My response at the time was an unexpressed, "yeah, right," but now I get it. I, too, feel that my body age is progressing as scheduled (or ahead of schedule), but my brain remains in its mid-20s. And it's a convincing fable. If I lived in isolation, my brain could convince me that I was still twentysomething.

But life is full of reminders. My place on life's timeline is just ahead of the leading edge of the baby-boom generation. I have read for years that the boomers are getting older and, as they have for each age group they pass through, will profoundly affect society. As more and more articles are written about these effects, they remind me that I will be there about a year before the oldest boomer. With any luck, I will be in time to access needed services before they are all saturated by the true boomers.

I was probably in my 40s when I was first addressed as Sir. There was a delay as I scanned the area and slowly came to realize that it was me being referred to. Sir - a term of respect for the elderly, not for a twentysomething like myself. Think again.

And what about the subtle and not-so-subtle shots from my three kids and colleagues about my thinning and receding hair. Ouch.

I start my days with a brisk walk to work, about six kilometres in just under an hour. Moving right along with my iPod distracting me, it's easy to convince myself that I am indeed still young. The harsh truth is driven home when I glance into the passing Portage Avenue storefront windows and see the reflection of my 65-year-old form - moving right along, but still a 65-year-old form. Real mirrors offer a much clearer, more vivid reminder.

I can't remember when they started, but that little bit of stiffness, those subtle aches and pains and the tired feeling that never used to occur are further reminders of time marching on. But aging isn't such a bad thing is it? Certainly not compared to the only alternative.

My great-grandfather, a Manitoba homesteader, was born in 1859 and lived to be 94, far beyond the life expectancy of his time. I can still remember as a child sitting at the kitchen table while he dunked strips of toast in his hot chocolate.

My grandfather, a Manitoba teacher and principal, would not divulge his age at the curling rink for fear no one would want to be on his team - he was in his mid-90s. He remained relatively healthy and active until 100. With that goal behind him, he began to lose interest in life and passed away just short of 102.

At that time my father was as healthy as the proverbial horse and it seemed clear to me that he would easily outlive his father, and in due course I mine, presumably attaining a ripe old age around 110.

But something happened. After my mother passed on at 83 with Alzheimer's disease, my dad struggled to maintain his independence. Eventually he hit the slippery slope of assisted living, then a nursing home followed by continued deterioration. He died short of 92 of renal failure. Not too shabby, but still a reversal of the trend I had seen in my grandfather and great-grandfather.

The fact that something had clearly changed became even more obvious when I was diagnosed with small bowel cancer in my late 50s. A bowel resection and a few months of chemotherapy seems to have put that episode in the past, but has raised some doubt in my longevity dream. (As an aside, as my hair came back after the chemo it looked like I was becoming younger in appearance. Alas, it was a short-lived illusion.)

Now not as sure of becoming one of an increasing number of people who will live beyond 100, I have a new appreciation for every new day. Travel and time with family and friends have a higher priority. Always relatively health conscious, I am trying to eat healthier, exercise more, take a few vitamins and continue my daily walks to work, trying not to glance at the aging reflection in the windows.

But my brain remains stuck in its 20s, in spite of more and more reminders that it is not so. On one hand I feel as though I'm not old enough to be receiving an OAS pension cheque on a monthly basis, and on the other I hope they will continue to arrive for at least the next 35 years.

Jim Beckstead lives in Winnipeg.

 

In the know

Most popular videos »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular