Chasing Down the Muse: At what point do we get old?

Wherever you go, there you are. — Jon Kabat-Zinn

Who knew this was where the muse would take me on this gorgeous autumn day here in paradise? Or was it my friend Lynda Sharp when she said, "I love your column. Why don't you write about getting old?"

Dismissing the question with a smile and a light response, I walked on that day. But the question kept resonating and growing in my mind and now here I am, writing about getting old. Kind of.

When thinking about how this should be expressed, I mostly come up with questions: What is "old" anyway? Is it something chronological, or is it true that you are only as old as you feel? Is it about forgetfulness? About not being seen or heard any longer? Losses? Frailty?

My mother-in-law at 93 is losing her hearing. She cannot see too well and is becoming frail and more forgetful each day. Yet she is full of energy. She smiles a lot and is interested in life. Is she old?

My own mother at 97 is very frail, hard of hearing and disinterested in going out among 'em at all. Still, she is avidly interested in world affairs and human relationships and asks lots of questions (though she forgets most of the answers). I want more for her, but she is happy with the life lived.

What about "Henry," who just celebrated his 105th birthday? His mind is agile; he is interested and interesting. He still drives a bit, goes out regularly and has friends of many ages. Still, his physical being is succumbing to the ravages of time. Old, and yet not old to me.

More and more, we have among us people who are in those chronological upper regions. Many are still living active, vital, interesting lives that are the envy of many a younger person.

Of course, they have suffered losses. Many have had to endure physical difficulties at times. It's all in how they face where they are when they get there.

So, Lynda, did I write about getting old? Kabat-Zinn's quote really does work for me here. Wherever you go, there you are. If that is defined as "old," maybe it is. Maybe not. If you are there and you are living life to the fullest in the moment — to your capabilities — isn't it enough?

And if you have two identical sweatshirts in your closet because you forgot about the first one, don't berate yourself. Just assume you must really like the style. The truth is, whatever the age, life is too short for all the worrying.

CHERRIL DOTY is an artist, writer and director of the Sawdust Studio Art Classes in Laguna Beach. Always fascinated, inspired, and titillated by the beauty and the ever-changing mysteries — and surprises — of life, she can be reached at or by phone at (714) 745-9973.

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