Can I Just Walk Backwards?

By Dinty W. Moore

“I wrote this meditation on aging, and what comes after, before news of our global health crisis spread with such surreal speed. Sitting here today, the world frightened, most of us homebound, the idea of growing gently and slowly into my elderly years sounds suddenly like a gift.  Be well, everyone.”—Dinty W. Moore

I am just short of retirement age, and my body is looking pretty dismal. There is the predictable sagging. The bloated middle. The grudging knees. The waning eyesight. Those are to be expected, I suppose. What bothers me right at this moment, however, are the age spots, dozens of raised bumps reminding me that the visible surface of what I call “me” has a mind of its own, an outer coating over which I ultimately have very little control.

The spots are properly called seborrheic keratosis, my doctor tells me. He neglects to mention that these little bits of waxy, slightly-elevated skin used to be called “senile warts.” They are not warts, however, and have no link to senility. Instead, they are just harmless clumps, appearing most prominently among pale-skinned folks of a certain age, especially those who have enjoyed prolonged exposure to the sun. (I’m Irish-American and grew up five minutes from the beach. You can guess how that plays out.)

Unlike other signs of aging, there is no way to exercise these away. The spots appear overnight, stubbornly, like a bitter warning:

Hey, Old Man. Decay, you know, is inevitable.

There are countless borders in our lives, many that I couldn’t wait to cross over. The border from helpless five-year-old to free-wheeling grade-schooler with his own Schwinn bike, for instance, or the border between un-allowanced teen to young man with a weekly paycheck. There was the literal and metaphorical border crossing that came when I left my hometown, for good. There were relationship borders, various boundaries of intimacy, numerous career thresholds, all of them sought after, and ending, usually, for the better.

And now another border crossing, and I’m not sure what I think.

The body inexorably moves toward decomposition, a fact that becomes distressingly apparent as we age, and crossing that border, which I evidently am, clearly signals the other border ahead.

The final border.

You know which one I mean.

Men, they say, grow more distinguished with age. Well sure, if you’re tall, thin, wealthy, and graced perhaps with natural good looks. For most of us, though, aging means failure, awkwardness, comic belly-fat, bowlegs, big sneakers.

I work out these days, yanking at weight machines, trying to keep some mobility, some trim.

The other day I met a 90-year-old man in the gym locker room, and he was weighing himself. At 90!

“Oh,” I said, both worried and perplexed. “I had hoped there’d come a day we didn’t have to worry about that anymore.”

He shrugged, said something about a hip replacement.

I shrugged back.

And then, moments later, walking to the car, it occurred to me. There will come a day we don’t have to worry about our weight anymore. Or age spots. Or thinning hair.

We’ll be on the other side.

So, I find myself at a border about which I am fully ambivalent, the boundary between later middle age and that word that still sounds so odd to my ears: elderly.

And after that, of course, the border I hope entirely to avoid, but won’t. 

I could go limp, I suppose, and drag my feet, like a kid who doesn’t want to be yanked into a kindergarten classroom, but I’m uncertain how effective that would be. Instead, it seems, I’m supposed to stand up straight, wear special socks to keep my legs and feet nimble, replace a hip or knee when needed, wear bifocals and hearing aids, medicate liberally and often, do whatever possible to hide as best I can any sign of nearing the border crossing directly ahead.

Where’s the rewind button?

All of this effort to move my life forward and now I feel tricked.

My entire life I’ve wanted the next thing, and the next thing after that, but stupidly hadn’t thought it all through.

Please. Can I just walk backwards and be that five-year-old again?

I promise I will take much better care of my bike.