What You’ll Want When You’re Old

When I was in my early to mid-20’s I was playing pick-up basketball with some “old” guys in their thirties and for some reason a comment one of them made really stuck. Both had knee braces on and were watching the younger guys run up and down the court and one said to the other, “When you’re older you’re going to want your knees.”

As I approach my sixties I’ve been thinking about what advice I would give my kids about what they’re going to want when they’re older. I think most young people, if they’re honest with themselves, will say that they want fame and fortune and all the things they think come with that. They want to have fancy cars, a big house, a very, very desirable mate that is the envy of all, and of course lots of money. They want to be admired and praised. Is that really the most important thing as you age?

I think one of the things most everybody wants at the age is their body. When you’re young I think the tendency is to take your body for granted. When you’re in grade school year by year you get taller and stronger and faster, more mature. At some point, though, that trajectory turns downward. Your body no longer tends to grow upward but instead tends to grow outward. Knees and ankles start to crack under the extra weight and lungs struggle to supply the oxygen needed to push the aging body forward. Then the whole system can break down.

When I was in my early forties during winter break in my second year of law school I herniated a disk in my lower back. Most law school students spend hour upon hour each day just sitting and reading. For a few days I could barely roll over in bed, and that only with great difficulty and excruciating pain. Not only was I in law school but my third child was a few months from coming into this world. Up to that point, it was one of the biggest challenges I had ever faced. When the doctor told me I wouldn’t need surgery, yet, he warned me if I didn’t “stay active” it would only get worse. That stuck with me as well.

Your body is your most important physical asset. Doctors can work wonders in replacing parts and overcoming reckless and neglectful behaviors, but there are limits. When you’re older you’re going to want legs and knees and ankles that can carry you from place to place. You’re going to want healthy lungs that can supply the rest of your body with needed oxygen. You’re going to want a functioning liver and at least one working kidney to keep your blood well-nourished and clean, and a strong heart to pump that blood with that oxygen and nourishment everywhere it needs to go. You’re going to want to have a body with constituent parts that have been taken care of so that your body can take care of you. And make no mistake, your brain is part and parcel of your body and dependent upon it.

Inevitably, with all of us, our bodies will start to deteriorate and fall apart, including our minds. Even the most meticulously maintained and cared for body will decline with age. As has been said, Father Time is undefeated. When that time comes, and it comes to all of us unless we die sooner, we’re going to want there to be people around us who we trust who will care for us. Such people cannot be bought with money. If you’re incapable of caring for and protecting yourself and have a big pile of money but no one who really cares about you, you will soon be someone in need of care with no one to care for you and no big pile of money. The government can help, but it is no replacement for those who truly know you and care about you.

Just as you’re going to want to maintain your body throughout your life, you’re going to want to build and maintain relationships with family, if you have family, and friends to help care for you when you can no longer care for yourself. Thinking only of yourself and your own needs sounds okay when you’re young and healthy, but it can be a death sentence when your body and mind inevitably betray you. Nothing is guaranteed, but those who serve others throughout their lives and who associate with people in the habit of serving others are more likely to be cared for in their time of need.

One mistake many of us make in this life is we push aside those who may be critical of how we lead our lives. No one likes to be criticized or told that the path we are on is not a good path. Few people like to be told “no.” As said previously, we like praise and admiration. When we’re no longer able to care for ourselves to have someone who cares for us and has our best interests at heart that can tell us “no” can literally be a life saver. In reality, throughout our lives someone to provide constructive criticism and tell us “no” is invaluable. You’re going to want those people around throughout your life, particularly when you’re old.

When you’re old, just as you’re going to want to have a body which has been as well maintained as you’re able, you’re going to want relationships with those who care about you that have been well maintained. Don’t wait before it’s too late.