I have reached that age when conversations with friends often include discussions of "the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to" and their potential remedies. That is not, by the by, a complaint. The alternative is far less to be desired.
I would however like to assert that our objections to those "natural shocks" are largely the result of measuring our lives by the wrong ruler, or yardstick, or meter stick, or whatever you might wish to call it. We make the mistake of measuring today in terms of yesterday. A brief example: yoga. Would I like to regain the flexibility that used to amaze my doctor during my yearly check ups when I was in my 40s? Sure. Am I ready to buy a mat, special shoes and, shudder, spandex in order to coax my 67-year-old body back into that bygone decade? No. Especially when I realize that I, like all of us, was most flexible as a baby. I mean, have you watched those little critters? They bend like Gumby, and no amount of sweat and spandex will ever get any of us back to those days.
Which might make the theme of this essay seem a bit strange: I believe I wake up every day better than I was the day before. Absurd? Better at 67 after two stem cell transplants than at 57, 47, 37? In a word: Yes.
It is, of course, all about the ruler. In 21st century America we tend to measure "better" in units defined by our media. Consider the t-shirt that reads "You can never be too rich or too thin." We start getting "informative" emails from our employers telling us that not only are we eligible for "phased retirement," but we might want to consider what our Social Security options might be. Reality TV shows peek into the lives of 20 or 30-somethings, as if there were something of importance to learn there. Wrong rulers. Warped rulers. Wrong. Wrong.
Recently I have been cleaning out files that stretch back over my four decades as a university professor. Correspondence before computers. Yearly semi-aggrandizing “reports” on my accomplishments. Oh my. Now, truthfully, when measured by "age and maturity appropriate rulers" I did OK. But given the opportunity to speak to my 27 or 37 or 47 year-old selves, my 67 year-old self would say, "Son, let's grab a beverage and chat. I can make this all a bit easier for you."
Eastern cultures, Native American cultures, aboriginal cultures all seem to have grasped something that we have let slip away in modern America: as we grow older, we often grow wiser. And that is what I mean when I say I wake up every day better than I was the day before. You see, I — and you — wake up every day a bit older and a bit wiser than we were the day before.
A couple of important caveats: When I say wiser, I don't necessarily claim to have a bunch of solid answers to life's confusions. But I do have some, and I have a lot of better questions than I had when I was younger. And, hopefully, I express both the questions and the conclusions with more grace and subtlety than did the youngster I once was.
Also, I have made many more mistakes than I had had time for when I was younger. So little time, so many mistakes. But there is no better way to learn how to do something right than by doing it wrong a few times.
So that is the continuing promise of each sunrise: we wake each day — perhaps stiffer, maybe nursing the occasional twinge — but still we rise, older and wiser than we were the day before. And that, my friend, is something for which we should be thankful.