My elementary school P.E. teacher was great. She was part P.E.
teacher, part cheerleader, always encouraging us, always motivating us.
("Go, Mayrav! You can do it!") But, man, was she old.
really old. Deep tanned-in-place wrinkles, liver-spotted hands. The
kind of old that has its own smell. So when I went back for a visit as
a high school student 10 years later, I was shocked to see she was not
only still alive, but still teaching.
At the time, I thought, "Wow. I hope I live that long."
I've changed my mind.
no big secret that you start to die the moment you're born, but the
reality of that fact – the true meaning of it – doesn't really hit you
until you have a kid and are able to compare his growing, blooming,
thriving body with your own decaying one.
After a year and a
half of waking up achy and sleep-deprived, of looking at my flabby self
in the mirror and realizing that it ain't baby weight – it's my changed
metabolism – I've finally come to the realization that it only gets
worse. There is no
when-he's-older-I'll-have-time-for-myself-and-reclaim-my-life. By the
time that happens I'll be staring down the double barrel of menopause
And it's not like I miss my teens or 20s.
They say youth is wasted on the young, but it isn't. People's bodies
start their erosion into oblivion long before they hit 30 – they just
don't know it yet.
So if the good old days weren't that good,
and the future is even more bleak, that means that this is as good as
it gets. The apex. The height of my existence. Allow me to describe a
morning in this, the best time of my life: I wake up too early to my
son's plaintive cry, "Momma! Hold-o." Almost immediately after I lift
him out of bed, he covers me in both diarrhea and vomit. Somehow, he's
the one who needs consoling. I clean him off and calm him down and
carry him out of his room and promptly step in dog poop.
All the while, my internal organs, long past their growing stages, slowly die.
(I can just hear the creaky voice of my grade-school gym teacher, "Humanity! Humanity! Go-o-o-o-o Humanity!")
you might say, "But, Mayrav, people have a much longer life expectancy
these days. Fifty is the new 30. Growing older doesn't have to mean
To which I say, "Dye your hair all you want and
get your cute little Botox injections. Truth is, you're just a pile of
unrealized dreams wrapped in an easily sloughed mortal coil. And no
amount of stolen time is going help you win the Nobel Prize or find a
cure for cancer (unless, of course, you're some old person who is on
her way to winning the Nobel Prize for curing cancer)."
as a species started to give up the ghost, as our forebears did, at 30
or 40, we'd die at this supposed apex, our rosebuds all gathered but
prostate cancer averted.
It's a radical idea, I know. And
please, before you fire off an angry e-mail, know that I'm not
literally saying that everyone over 30 should just drop dead. But maybe
we shouldn't put such a premium on trying to elongate our deteriorating
What do we really get out of the bargain? Maybe a few
more vacations, maybe a chance to meet our great-grandkids. That all
sounds nice. But it comes with broken hips and bad eyes and – and this
may be the worst part – wisdom. Wanna know what wisdom is? It's the
knowledge that you're not going to live forever. ("Humanity! Humanity!
He's our guy! Humanity! Humanity! We're all gonna die!")
not like there is any glory in longevity, anyway. Just a lot of dead
acquaintances. I can imagine myself at 102, hunched alone in front of a
too-loud television like a 2-year-old in timeout, wondering, "How much
longer do I have to sit here?"
What do you get when you live a
really, really long time? The title of "Oldest Known Living Person."
The previous oldest known living person was Emma Faust Tillman who died
last week at 114, four days after she claimed the title. Forty-one
thousand six hundred and ten days that woman had to endure on this
planet and she only gets to wear the crown for four of them? ("Gimme an
No thanks. Not for me. This whole grass-is-browner
realization has me thinking about my gym teacher in a whole new light.
I don't just remember her encouragements but I wonder if she was ever
in any pain on the playground? Did she get winded walking up the ramp?
Did we kids tire her out?
Or, I shudder to consider this: Is she still alive?