Is It Just Age?

Peter Osnos
Oct 19 · 3 min read

As 2021 heads through the final quarter of another year scarred by Covid and too many other crises of one kind or another to keep track, there are daily reminders of what is usually attributed to “old age.” The image of Bill Clinton masked and frail on Hillary’s arm leaving the hospital after being treated for sepsis from a urinary tract infection (in contrast to the unchecked virility of his Monica Lewinsky period now being replayed on FX’s Impeachment), for instance.

In a video interview with Axios, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), a physician, says he favors cognition tests for all aging leaders of our three branches of government. Think Biden, Pelosi, Schumer, McConnell. He said, in conclusion, that in your eighties you begin a “rapid decline,” the point being that in your late seventies you’re on the precipice of potential senility. Cassidy is sixty-four.

And it has to be acknowledged that, on a steady basis, close friends report diagnoses of serious health issues or, as was the case of my talented college and graduate school classmate Arnie Reisman, instant death at 1 a.m. in bed at age seventy-nine. He was having brunch with friends days before.

There is also the accumulating irritation of a cascade of social phenomena, particularly the focus on grievances connected to gender, race, sexual orientation, anatomy, and identity. Let’s face it, bigotry, bias, inequity, and injustice are all embedded in human nature and always has been. As is, to one extent or another, thoughtfulness, courage, stamina, creativity, innovation, passion, skills, and triumph.

Watching Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer make the rounds talking about his new book, I wonder whether he thought it was worth fielding incessant questions about whether, at eighty-two, he should retire. Katie Couric reveals in her new memoir that Ruth Bader Ginsburg said Colin Kaepernick was “dumb” for taking a knee at football games when the national anthem was played. She said much more, but Couric left those comments out because she thought RBG might not have understood the questions. The revelation will doubtless add to book sales and to the belief that the beloved justice stayed on the bench too long.

Finally, the ravings of Donald Trump, swinging wildly from his post-presidential lairs, are if anything getting worse. And the man is so vain that he refused to publicly acknowledge having had a colonoscopy because, I suspect, of the public image of having a camera placed, as the saying goes, “where the sun don’t shine.”

Good grief!

Aging is inevitable and always ends the same way.

But clearly all the age-related stimuli and accompanying barrage of complaints, challenges, tests, and failures are not especially good for one’s own health. I had surgery myself earlier this year, to remove a growth in my shoulder. This was followed by seven weeks of daily radiation which culminated in a chorus of “We Are the Champions” with the techs on the last day. On the other hand, as the sacred texts might say, I also have been married to the same amazing woman for almost fifty years and have two great offspring, their wonderful spouses, and five grandchildren whom I adore.

Can we [choose your own approach to insert here as a means of seeing the bright side]?

We should accept that coping with the consequences of life’s requirements is core to being alive.

First you have to learn to walk and talk. Then comes adolescence. Instagram apparently is too often bad for teenage girls’ self-image. Teenage boys are at risk from acting on impulses. Couples with small children and demanding jobs are running on fumes. Then comes menopause and masculine insecurity about physical prowess. And, at last, if you make it that far, you are (young, middle, and very) old, eligible for booster shots and senior fares but nearing the dreaded time of precipitous decline.

Why am I writing this? Because I’d better do it now while I still can. I just turned seventy-eight.

Peter Osnos’ Platform

Perspectives on journalism and publishing from a longtime…

Peter Osnos’ Platform

Perspectives on journalism and publishing from a longtime journalist and publisher

Peter Osnos

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Founder in 1997 of PublicAffairs. Author of “An Especially Good View: Watching History Happen”. Editor of “George Soros: A Life in Full” March 2022

Peter Osnos’ Platform

Perspectives on journalism and publishing from a longtime journalist and publisher