As we’re growing up, most of us have stepping stones as we achieve the awesome task of “growing up.” There are birthdays (“I’m three years old!”), Christmas (“Is there really a Santa Claus?”), starting school, graduations, the senior dance, career choices, partners, promotions, anniversaries, and if one has children the whole cycle begins again.
But I’ve never thought of stepping stones for aging. There are various medical events, of course – cataracts, joint replacements, hearing aids, surgery for both insignificant and serious needs. And perhaps there are significant anniversaries, especially if one makes it to the “golden years.”
Yesterday, however, I stumbled on a big stepping stone for us elderly. Perhaps I should call it a boulder. My husband and I were going out to a new restaurant to celebrate the 44 years we have been living together. We left for an early meal – 6:00 – when the rush hour was at its height and it was fully dark. But we were driving on roads with which we are very familiar, and the drive was not more than 20 minutes. Night driving, even all-night driving both in the US and here in the UK and Europe, is something we have done probably thousands of time. It never daunted us.
Last night was different. It was awful. Cars were speeding, failing to dim their head lights, and traffic was even held up by a road work vehicle. But that wasn’t really the problem.
We’re the problem. Our responses are getting slower, our supply of energy is less, our capacity for dealing with stress reduced. We both found ourselves staring into the lights glaring out of the dark saying emphatically “Never again!” We will never again voluntarily drive in the dark for recreational purposes. If we can’t take a taxi, we’ll stay at home, cook our own dinner, and watch television. Or go out to lunch or wait until the long days of summer.
So how is this a stepping stone? Well, it’s really the vestibule. I have seen in a generation before mine that facing the reality of not driving takes honesty and courage. Giving up one’s driving license is the Great Stepping Stone. It’s the great recognition that one is getting old. Not older. Old.
I think it’s unlikely that I will live long enough to indulge in driverless cars.
So if something else doesn’t stop me first, I’ve had my first glimpse of that Great Stepping Stone that just got a little bit closer. The great question is what I will make of it.