I was fortunate enough to have a wonderful vacation this summer—one of my ‘bucket list’ trips: an in-depth visit to Norway. It’s a magnificent country, with majestic mountains, waterfalls, glacier lakes, and interesting cities and towns—the whole thing. And, as one does, we took a lot of pictures of said mountains and beautiful vistas. Of course, to prove we were there, we took pictures of us standing in front of all those magnificent places, too. The whole nine yards. Very cliché, but somewhat expected.

I had the opportunity on the long flight back home to review them in order to see what I wanted to keep, delete, print and share. And in so many of them there was this gray-haired, wrinkled, squinty-eyed old man photo­bombing my pictures! I had hoped I would see that dapper, handsome, bon vivant I was used to seeing but somehow that was not to be. Someone must have stolen that portrait I had hidden in the attic, as I now hardly recognized myself. It’s curious that looking at myself in the bathroom mirror every morning wasn’t warning enough: There was something about the static image of the photo that was particularly surprising and jarring at the same time—and a bit depressing. 

It’s not that I’m afraid of growing older, or of my mortality. Nor do I feel that much older. OK, I guess I do feel somewhat more sedentary, but I’ve been blaming that on the pandemic and the interruption of my previous routines. And yes, I make noises when I get up from sitting down, but I didn’t have the self-awareness of how both my physical appearance or my engagement with life have changed. At one point in this somewhat energetic trip, I must have demurred to going on another hike or something and got told to “Stop acting like an 85-year-old.” That was a shock. My response of course was that I was “just practicing.” However, as I thought about it, it’s not as far away as it should have sounded. And acting it is definitely worse than actually being it, at any age.

I do like to think that I’ve dealt with my ongoing ‘maturation’ pretty well, but really, who thinks of themselves as getting old? I imagine that most people have an awareness in their head of a version of themselves many decades younger. We don’t really see what we see; that person in the mirror is just poor lighting. I mean who really embraces feeling old? And if you don’t feel old, why should you look old? I know that’s very vain and superficial, but hey there’s a lot of money to be made addressing this insecurity. It’s very unlikely that I’ll do much about it, but maybe I should start using sunscreen. I’m way too much of a baby to get filler and Botox that I’d have to repeat every few months. So, I’m left to internalizing that slightly unsettling vision of myself as the current me. It’s inevitable. 

It could be worse: I still do really think though that feeling and acting older is the sin, not the wrapper it comes in. 

Image courtesy of iStock

Dr. Blecher is an attending surgeon at Wills Eye Hospital.