Maintaining A Sense of Humor About Aging


by: Donal Ardell

Aging, usually in the form of references to the foibles of those who display unsettling characteristics of doing so, is a source of daily humor in American life, as it must be elsewhere around the globe, where everyone engages in the practice, sooner or later. I myself have begun to talk about old age and gray hairs and thin locks. As a precaution against continued hair loss, I recently shaved my skull, the better to blend with youths who do so as fashion statements. I don't know if you've seen me lately, but I must say I am quite a fashion statement.

There is nothing funny about many if not most (all?) of the conditions associated with the gradual decline of physical and mental capacities due to aging, but grinning at what will ultimately kill us does take some of the anxiety off the reality of things. Aging humor is big and that is surely a good thing, though we are not always amused at the forms it takes. Humor has long been a mental salve for soothing the discomforts of human suffering. Humor is also good medicine of a preventative and curative sort and, when it can't prevent or cure, it's there as a diversionary tactic that distracts from grim realities, for (or by casting) a spell. We are, all of us, fated to suffer diminution of body and mind and, soon enough, death. No matter how many miles we jog, how many fruits and veggies we eat, how many DBRU equivalents we experience or how much meaning and purpose we adopt or serene we become, it happens. We age, we slow and the gray hairs and thin locks remind us of what's coming. The range of weapons of serious mass destruction (100 percent fatality rate for all life forms) as well as the little slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that Time employs know no bounds. Diseases like Alzheimer's are not funny, nor are its milder forms (i.e., Sometimers and Oftentimers), but that doesn't keep us from cackling at situations these maladies create.

Here is a story that illustrates the point. There were two elderly people living in a Florida mobile home park. He was a widower and she a widow. They had known one another for a number of years. One evening there was a community supper in the big activity center. The two were at the same table, across from one another. As the meal went on, he made a few admiring glances at her and finally gathered up his courage to ask her, Will you marry me? She replied, Yes, Yes, I will. The meal ended and with a few more pleasant exchanges and they retired to their respective places.

Next morning, he was troubled. Did she say 'yes' or did she say 'no'? He couldn't remember. Try as he would, he just could not recall. With trepidation, he phoned. First, he explained that he doesn't remember as well as he used to. Then he reviewed the lovely evening past. And then he inquired, When I asked if you would marry me, did you say 'Yes' or did you say 'No'? She replied, Why, I said, 'Yes, yes I will' and I meant it with all my heart.: And then she added, "And I am so glad that you called, because I couldn't remember who had asked me." C.W. Metcalf observed, Humor skills are important for people over five and under pressure.

When aging-related realities seem difficult, many strategies can be employed for modest if temporary relief. Here's one. Visit a remote area, go out at night - and look up at another world. You will see a luminous realm visible to the earliest hominids - and the dinosaurs long before them. You will see thousands of stars without a telescope. The distant suns will twinkle in hues of red, blue and yellow-white. You'll see the Milky Way cut a swath of faint cloud-like mist from one end of the horizon to the other. You'll enjoy a hearty dose of shock and awe, maybe even a mysterious reverence at the wonder of it all. Know that what you are seeing is a fragment of what's out there - a cosmos vast beyond imagination or belief.

This might put you in a better mood to look on the bright side. There is so much out in other worlds but here you are, at a moment in time when life is still yours.

You can also ponder words expressed by some remarkable people long gone, whose thoughts remain as sweet as ever. Words from people like Ingersoll, for example. I put the first words of his remarks to the Lotus members during their 20th anniversary reunion at the top of this essay. You might find his parting words to the club members of interest, as well: When I am at such a gathering as this, I almost wish I had had the making of the world. What a world I would have made! In that world unhappiness would have been the only sin; melancholy the only crime; joy the only virtue. And whether there is another world, nobody knows. Nobody can affirm it; nobody can deny it. Nobody can collect tolls from me, claiming that he owns a turnpike, and nobody can certainly say that the crooked path that I follow, beside which many roses are growing, does not lead to that place. He doesn't know. But if there is such a place, I hope that all good fellows will be welcome.

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