The question caught me off guard: “Do you want to die young? Or grow old?” No small talk. No preparation. It was as if I had stepped into the middle of a deep philosophical conversation and was expected to keep pace with those who had been engaged in the discussion for hours without me. I felt like Donny in The Big Lebowski, butting in and it was a matter of time before Walter was going to tell me “You’re out of your element.”
The spotlight was on. The question was asked and all eyes were looking at me, awaiting an answer. I provided the quickest and most neutral answer I could think of: “Neither.” Although, I said it as a confused question, so it came out more like “Neeee-thurrrr?”
“Ah” came the reply. “So somewhere in the middle. Good choice.” Is it possible to accidentally win on a trivia game show? If so, I’d probably be that winner.
It is true though, I don’t want to die young. I want to live to see my kids graduate high school and college. I want to see them fall in love and get married. I want to meet my future grandkids. Growing old though is open for debate.
One of my biggest worries is that when I grow old, I’ll be one of those cantankerous old farts, standing on my porch yelling at those kids “Get off my dang lawn.” I don’t want to be that old dude but I fear it is inevitable. I’d rather be one of those adorably goofy old guys that everyone adores, the kind younger people look at and remark amongst themselves “he’s so cute.”
If I can age graciously, if I can become the latter of those two options, then I would welcome growing old with gleeful abandon. I would take the dance floor with my cane and fragile hips to show those youngins what they have to look forward to. I would tell stories of what life was like before iPods, Facebook, and Netflix. I would flirt with all the single female residents in my nursing home. If I can grow up to be that man? Bring it on.
However, that situation is unlikely. The elderly version of me will probably have more in common with Dennis the Menace’s curmudgeonly neighbor, Mr. Wilson. I fear my future self and other old geezers will be reenacting the feuds of the characters played by Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in Grumpy Old Men.
I don’t want to be that kind of old guy. I don’t want to spend the twilight of my life cranky, bitter, and pining for the good old days. If that is my fate, then I don’t want to grow old.
Maybe neither is the best answer. I don’t want to die young and I don’t want to grow old if I’m going to be the perpetual grouch. So somewhere in the middle. Please stop me before I become the man I don’t want to be.
Or maybe the best answer is to remain forever young. All I need to do is find the fountain of youth. Perhaps I could follow Woody Allen’s approach: “I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying.”