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Sue Bruns: It’s not how old you are …

Newscasters in pre-campaign 2016 speculation mode have been talking lately about how old certain potential candidates will be on the day the next president of the U.S. assumes office.

“Hillary will be 69,” they tell us; Biden, even older. They debate the effects of age on the ability of a person to lead our country.

Age isn’t just a factor for presidential candidates. Check the unemployment figures for age 50-plus Americans competing with recent college graduates or with highly qualified middle-aged people.

Age, though, is relative, and its effects vary greatly from person to person.

I read somewhere that as our bodies get older, we tend to remain at a particular age in our heads. My “Head Age” invites me to cartwheel across the fresh green grass of the yard, while my “Body Age” shoots a message to my brain: “The last time you tried that, it wasn’t pretty.”

We who came of age in the 1960s and ‘70s — the “Never trust anyone over 30” era  —  have graduated simply to the “Never trust anyone” age. We passed the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, and now, when we hear of the death of a 70-something celebrity, we say, “But he was so YOUNG!”

At the Neilson Place, I visit friends who are in their 80s and 90s. One day 93-year-old Aggie said, “A hundred doesn’t really seem that old.”  I’m guessing Aggie is about 23 in “Head Age.”  My friend Joe, 99, is funny, inquisitive, and lovable. Joe, too, has a “Head Age” far lower than his chronological age.

Perception of our own age doesn’t change as obviously as our perception of the ages of others — I suppose because our own aging is such a gradual thing. Unless we spend hours

each day fixating on our image in a mirror, we tend to see what we’re used to seeing and don’t give our reflection much thought.

Perhaps you’ve attended your 30th, 40th or 50th class reunion and, upon arriving, thought, “Everyone looks so OLD!”   

But after a few cocktails and getting reacquainted, the years fade away from those familiar faces and you find yourself saying, in all sincerity:  “You look GREAT!”  

Then you take a bathroom break, glance at your own reflection in the mirror, and think, “Gee. I look so OLD! And where did those neck wrinkles come from?  I swear they were NOT there yesterday!”

Upon rejoining your high school friends, their comments of “You look great,” help you through the rest of the night. And the best part about their compliment, in addition to its sincerity, is that it didn’t include the disclaimer “for your age” that you’ve come to expect from people younger than you.

Old is in the eye of the beholder. Several years ago, when I advised football cheerleaders, this truth became evident.

I was in the van with the cheerleaders, stopped at a light in Grand Rapids, when one girl looked out the window at the car beside us.

“That guy’s kind of cute,” she said of the driver.

“He’s OLD,” replied the second cheerleader.

“No, he’s not,” said a third. “He’s cute.”

“He’s OLD,” the second insisted, and for proof she pointed out the ultimate evidence in the back seat of the man’s car: “He’s got GROCERIES!”

My husband and I recall a revelation of our own aging several years ago. As college students we had sometimes gone to Jack’s Supper Club in Wilton for dances and parties. A few years after graduating from college and starting jobs, we returned to Jack’s one evening.

None of our old college friends were there. A band was playing but no one was dancing wildly or doing the alligator on the dance floor. The atmosphere was not the same.

Gary sized up the situation rather aptly:  “Kind of an older crowd here tonight.…  About OUR age!”

The thing about aging is that most of us prefer it to the alternative.

We can’t let the years discourage us from trying new things.

I recall a letter to Dear Abby from a middle-aged woman considering going med school, but balking at the idea of being in her 50’s when she would finally be a doctor.  

Abby wisely asked, “And how old will you be at that time if you DON’T go to med school?”