Aging Is Confronting Change

Dogs, also, bark at what they do not know.

“There is nothing permanent except change,” said the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who lived around 2500 years ago. And, the sage added, “No one ever steps in the same river twice.” His lesson for us today is that the world is always becoming, something older folks know even if they don’t act on it.

Confronting change and the need to change is hard for us oldsters, though not always. Let me use myself as an instance both of resisting change and accommodating to it.

At my age (now 89), you think more about death—how it may arrive, uselessly planning for it, thinking how your ultimate departure will affect others. The Great Unknown lurks ahead, its very nature impossible to comprehend. Will we become a caterpillar or a butterfly?

But change in one’s daily life is what we should be concerned about. The key to a full later life is dealing with the changes that inevitably occur. I’ve written before about the urge to withdraw—from friends, society, the things that used to give us pleasure. To the extent you permit these withdrawals to take over your life, that life will be diminished.

The changes you want to accommodate to are the important ones. Music for me has always played a prominent part in my life. I studied it, played it (for a while), wrote about it, collected it, and for a time fancied myself as an authority and critic. Now my music has become part of my aging routine—i.e., mostly just listening—and it has blended into a background of a habitually reduced active and full life. You could call it a kind of withdrawal, and accepting that has been hard. I’ve also had to accept that my musical tastes have changed over time. I loved ‘70s rock ‘n’ roll; now much of it sounds like jejune ramblings.

I think I’m still growing and learning to understand the world, but today it ain’t easy. My personal and political judgments have changed in part because I now understand history better. Yet it’s easier to remember the good old days than to deal with the ever-changing and confusing present. When I see IRA I think Irish Republican Army, not Inflation Reduction Act.

All of us have daily reminders of how physical needs and changes control us. Old people can get lazy. They like their afternoon naps. They sleep more—and wake up more during the night. They want and need routines, which make us feel in control. What do you eat for breakfast? Every day?

Technology especially tests our ability to change. What do you really know about crypto? Or AI? It’s hard enough for an old guy to master all the changes that have come in software and computing. As I said here, “my old brain is not equipped for this.” And then there are the vagaries and aggravations of the so-called smartphone.

To end on this note would be wrong. One good thing about getting old is that you learn (or some of us learn) what it means to confront change. A good strategy is simply to accept it, not necessarily for what it is but for how you can reframe it to fit your new life patterns. Think of change not as threat but as thinking outside the box.