It All Falls Apart

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I first saw Bruce Willis on what would become one of my favorite shows, Moonlighting. He was so handsome, charming, and quick-witted. When Willis made the rare jump to movie action star (in those days tv stars very rarely transitioned to the big screen successfully), I was all in. He did a little singing and had a top-40 hit…I was all in. He married the gorgeous Demi Moore…I was all in on that too. For a decade or more, if there was a Bruce Willis movie, I was at the movie theater watching it opening weekend.

He was invincible. His star quality, his resume, his rugged good looks, his attractive family…Willis had it all.

By now, most Americans know that Willis has been diagnosed with Aphasia, a degenerative disease similar to Alzheimer’s. Recently, his family shared with the world that his condition has deteriorated into dementia. Once, the Die Hard legend seemed invincible. Now, we see him as he really is and has always been…simply human.

The news has me thinking – about health, longevity, loss. I recently wrote about the shock and disappointment of seeing Madonna’s stretched and misshapen face at the Grammys. My disappointment wasn’t in how she looked, but rather the motivation behind it. I’d always seen her as so powerful and self-possessed, but the lengths she has gone to in order to stave off aging seem excessive. I’m not opposed to cosmetic tweaks as one ages. To each their own, but desperately trying to reverse time seems pointless.

Every frail elderly person was once a strong, energetic young person, with dreams and goals and many years ahead. If you’re lucky, you’ll be that person one day too (if you aren’t already). One day your grandkids or the neighbor’s kids or someone’s kids will look at an old photo of you and exclaim, “Wow! You look so young!” As if it should be surprising that an old person was once a young person, and every young person is on their way to becoming an old person.

I express thought and emotion for a living. I love to read and ponder. I’m a lifelong learner. I’m always up for trying something new. My worst nightmare is to lose my mind. It is the thing that worries me most about aging. I hate the thought of one day succumbing to an awful disease like Alzheimer’s.

I have a friend who was an elite athlete in college. Even now, in middle age, he is more fit than most men his age. He works out, does triathlons, hikes on weekends, swims on weekdays…he is a physical specimen. His greatest worry is losing his mobility. When he thinks about the aging process, his biggest fears involve losing the ability to control his body.

It’s different for everyone. Some people hate the idea of having to live with assistance. Some hate the idea of having to wear adult diapers one day, or take multiple medications, or lose their ability to drive at night. We all dread something.

Hearing the news of Bruce Willis’ diagnosis reminded me that (as the Word says) I cannot add a day to my life by worrying about this aging frame. We are blessed to age. As my grandmother once asked me, what is the alternative? But with that age comes decay. Our world is mortal, and while my faith tells me there is a life beyond this one – a life of perfected mind and body – on this plane, we must accept our inevitable decay.

There is no protection from age, or the travails that come with it. You can be as strong and handsome and successful as Bruce Willis and still be rendered helpless by your own decaying body. His success was no match for time. Ours will not be either. Aging is a privilege that comes with a price.

I live in southern California, a place that is ravaged by the false promises of eternal youth in a needle or a scalpel. Too many people here end up looking ridiculous in the pursuit of defying the inevitable. Some women would rather look like waxy cartoon characters than simply look their age. There’s a thread of denial that runs through this particular part of the world, and it’s often used to stitch together new noses, or rounder cheeks.

It can be disheartening to see, because it belies a deeper emptiness. It exposes a terrible truth – that too many people think of youth as life.

Life is life…and life has stages. Our bodies have stages. On this side of heaven, we are not built to last forever. Aging is the great equalizer. We all fall into decay…if we’re blessed. That will mean we’ve seen many days, and hopefully, most of those days have been worth seeing. I know I’m not enjoying my shrinking bladder, but that’s the price I pay for getting to see my children grow into adulthood, and hopefully getting to watch their children do the same one day.

You can be Bruce Willis or Joe Schmoe, it doesn’t really matter. It all falls apart in the end. You can be bitter and angry about it, or you can be like Madonna and try to fake your way out of that reality.

Or you can accept that the price of life is living, and living leaves a mark.


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