The Tragedy of Aging

Edward Lando
3 min readNov 21, 2023

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The real tragedy of aging — beyond the obvious ailments and loss of loved ones it entails— is that not everyone in the world is the same age at the same time.

If we all went through life as one cohort, going through the motions of the human condition in sync, I think things would be a lot less painful for everyone. We would all collectively move on to the next stage but I think would miss things less, because they wouldn’t be done right in front of us.

When an old man goes back to a college campus… though he might be a happy grandfather or great-grandfather, how can he not wistfully think back to the freedom and youthful carelessness of his college days when they are happening right in front of him?

Even I already think about this when I go back to Penn’s campus, and I’m not even at the 10 year mark.

But then again, wow.

It has almost been 10 years since I graduated…

The other day I was invited to a dinner and told someone at that table that I had earlier that day been dared into doing a keg stand, which was reminiscent of certain college nights for me. Thankfully not too many.

“Man, I miss those days”, he said. A successful man, happily married, with lovely kids, a tad out of shape but nothing bad. And yet I could hear the light notes of regret in his voice.

I think they would have been there regardless, but that his nostalgia was accentuated by hearing this harmless anecdote firsthand from someone who still lives in what for him a long gone past.

I remember when I turned 20 and my mother exclaimed: “Vingt ans! Que c’est beau d’avoir vingt ans.”

How beautiful indeed.

She said this about pretty much every birthday throughout my twenties, with all of a mother’s love, and maybe with a pang of longing each time.

I was delighted by her yearly effusions but understood, more and more as I progressed through that decade, that I wouldn’t be my age forever.

I think it really started hitting me at 25. As my mother once told me: “I had always been the young one. Only other people were old, not me.”

And yet we all get old, if we’re lucky.

“C’est la seule justice,” my maternal grandmother Marie-Antoinette used to say. It is the only justice. I am now starting to understand what she meant.

I have seen older people, my own parents included, occasionally insulted on the streets by someone who comments on their age — in my mother’s case a rogue cyclist that she had correctly berated for nearly crashing into her. A cruel thing to do from a man who was both unaware and unaccepting of his own human condition.

My father doesn’t ski nor play tennis with me anymore. I know he appreciates many of the other joys life has to offer, such as painting and writing, but it is painful both to me and to him to have this contrast in front of us when I can still go do these things. And thankfully we can still play pickleball :)

Generations come and generations go. The older generation misses being able to do something. And the younger one can still enjoy it for now, but, if it is self-aware, knows that everything is ephemeral and fragile.

That is a big “if,” as we know. What do they say again about youth being wasted on the young?

The lesson, of course, is to live as fiercely as you can, and to find a certain stoic consolation in the idea that, though different generations co-exist, we all go through the chapters of life. And that every age does indeed come with its own beauty.

Unless of course, we figure out longevity… More on that soon.

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