My World According to AARP

Posted February 15, 2010 by jimhigley

An envelope arrived on my doorstep a few days ago with a return address as prominent as Rudolph’s own flashing nose-so-bright.

AARP (blink). AARP (blink). AARP (blink).

In bright red letters nonetheless. Perhaps they didn’t realize that I’m still closer to 49 than I am to 50. Perhaps they had the wrong person? I mean, they didn’t even spell my name correctly. Perhaps, I feared, I’d be receiving these mailings every month, just like the annoying reminders to renew my magazine subscriptions, until I reply.

So, I threw it away.

I’ve never been one to obsess about my age. But that night in bed, I found myself developing a mental list of all the reasons why I, in fact, might be getting old.

1. I have virtually no hair on my head. But that’s been the situation for twenty-some years.
2. While I don’t really think I have wrinkles, I have noticed that I photograph better without flash photography. And at a distance of at least ten feet.
3. The arches in my feet went MIA about 16 years ago.
4. I take an assortment of prescription medications that help my digestion, my heart and a few other things that, truthfully, I can’t remember.
5. My oldest child is a few months from being of legal drinking age.
6. My middle child is just weeks away from not needing my consent to marry–or get the tattoo she has been threatening me with.
7. My youngest son simply thinks I’m ancient.
8. I read the weather and obituaries with interest.
9. I’ve long stopped being invited to the weddings of friends. I do, however, receive regular invitations to weddings of my friends’ children (many of whom have no idea who I am).
10. I cheered for Donny Osmond to win Dancing with the Stars.

There’s more. But I’ll spare you.

I think I dozed off somewhere around item 27. I’m not really sure. What I am sure of, however, is what woke me up around 2:15 in the morning. I was thinking about my mom. You see, my mom never received her AARP card. She came close, however! But her life was cut short at the age of 49 years, 4 months, and 2 days. I realized, lying there as the moonlight breathed a very quiet glow in my room that I had already outlived my own mother. I thought about the 50th birthday party that my dad, four brothers and I had in her honor. Without her.

My sister-in-law, Kathleen, told me years ago that she regularly prayed that my brothers and I would all be safely delivered to a healthy, happy life past the age of 49. Once all five of us were 50, we’d escape the “cursed” age in our family. And, since I was the youngest of the five boys, I’d be the final one to cross the finish line–delivering our entire team of brothers to safety.

But the team didn’t make it. Kevin, our middle brother, the fun brother, died at the age of 46. Even I began what has turned out to be a long, slow dance with cancer starting at the age of 44.

I was the last person to be running from 50. I should be running to it!

While the rest of the house slept, I tip-toed down to my den to dig through the trash and found Rudolph’s flashing nose still waiting for me–like a beacon in the night. I filled out my paperwork, requested that they please spell my name correctly, and enclosed my introductory $16 check.

I then returned to a most peaceful sleep.

The following morning, I found myself thinking more about this whole “49” thing. A little Googling and I learned that roughly 18,000 Americans die at the age of 49 every year. Taking that fact one step further, that means 18,000 families will be celebrating–sometime in the next 12 months–that painful first birthday without someone they love. Celebrating a birthday that should have had 50 blazing candles. And a shiny, new AARP card.

I’m looking forward to my 50 candles, complete with all the ribbing from my family. My head’s screwed back on. I’m also looking forward to flashing my card, enjoying up to 25% on car rentals, 20% at select (translation: “Good luck finding one!”) retail outlets, and getting one more magazine that goes directly into recycling.

Hey, if I’m really lucky, I’ll be around to find a Medicare card knocking on my door someday. Someday. But in the meantime, I’ll just enjoy the day that’s in front of me.

And, if you want to capture any of those days in a photo, be my guest. But do me a favor and step back a few more feet, O.K.?