I don’t remember when newspapers began putting people’s ages in every article, but I think it’s a fairly recent convention. Age may have absolutely nothing to do with the story, but it’s stuck in there anyway like an obsessive-compulsive tic: “Mary Brown, 36, neighbor of the alleged embezzler, 49, said she had never met the man.” Or “John Smith, 82, and his wife, Elsie, 81, said they were overjoyed that their son, Edgar, 56, had been honored for his work in molecular biology. Edgar and his son, 26, just returned from a trip to see his ex-wife, 54.”
Why the heck do they give their ages? Why not their weight or blood type? It would be just as relevant to read “Jane Jones, 145 pounds, said she thought it was a shame that the mayor, Ted Grimes, 212 pounds, had decided not to run again.” Or “Edgar Wilson, A-Negative, entertained the guests at the party in honor of Fred Hanes, B-Positive.”
I stopped giving my age a long time ago, back when I was so young that people thought it was totally weird that I wouldn’t say how old I was. Now they don’t think it’s weird, they think I’m being coy or evasive. I truly think our age-obsession is not only silly but based on a faulty concept.
Every cell of every organ in our bodies dies and is renewed regularly. Bone cells live the longest, but they are completely regenerated about every seven years. So if all our bodies’ cells are constantly being renewed, the only thing about us that ages are our memories, beliefs and ideas.
When a cell is renewed, the new cell takes on the characteristics of the cell it’s replacing. If that cell was damaged by disease or poor nutrition, then the new cell will be less than perfect too. But if it improves through better diet or environment, so will the next cell be improved. We therefore have some control over those factors that we point to as having wills of their own.
A six-year-old is under the influence of gravity as much as a sixty-year-old, but a six-year-old’s jaw line doesn’t sag. If the cells of a sixty-year-old are no older than those of a six-year-old, and they aren’t, then there has to be some other reason for the sixty-year-old jaw sag. Which puts us back to old saggy disappointments, old furrowed anxieties, old stiff resentments. All of which are reflected in what we call signs of aging.
I truly believe that a person who was able to live without hauling around painful memories would have supple joints and skin as firm and unlined as a six-year-old’s. I haven’t achieved that, but I still believe that age is largely in our minds, and I wish the media would stop promoting the idea that it’s set in concrete.