Heart trouble runs in my family, so every two years, I take medical tests to make sure I’m OK. Last month, after I mounted a treadmill and ran as long and hard as I could, the doctor said I did just fine “for a man your age.”
I was relieved by the news, though less than thrilled by a qualifier that, with increasing frequency, comes up when I talk with health professionals. Getting judged healthy “for a man your age” hints pretty strongly that I’m now graded on the curve, much like the old gents of my youth who were paid the left-handed compliment of being praised as “spry.”
As a man now north of 50, I have a standard answer when people ask me how old I am. “I’m about the same age as Brad Pitt,” I tell them with complete honesty. “In fact, he’s a month older than I am.”
Suffice it to say that no one has ever confused me with Mr. Pitt, the perennially youthful actor, like me more than half a century old, who’s now starring as an astronaut in a new movie, “Ad Astra.” My wife often tells me of the impossibly high standards of youth and sex appeal set for American women by Hollywood actresses who seem immune from the march of time.
Let me add that living in the shadow of celebrity culture isn’t exactly a picnic for men, either. In his new blockbuster, as a swashbuckling space traveler, Pitt almost single-handedly saves the world, looking no worse for wear in the bargain. By comparison, about the only physical feat I can brag about lately is that before taking a weekend road trip, I successfully loaded four suitcases into the SUV without herniating a disc.
Though I haven’t managed to hold up quite as well as the leading men of my generation, I was recently told by a dental hygienist that I have the gums of a 20-year-old. It wasn’t the body part at the top of my wish list for exceptional preservation, but with age, we learn to take our blessings where we find them.
I’ve been thinking of the mysteries of medical science a good bit this autumn because of a new book on my nightstand, Bill Bryson’s “The Body: A Guide for Occupants.” A thick vein of gallows humor runs through Bryson’s book, a tongue-in-cheek survey of the science behind the human body.
Yes, age eventually claims its pound of flesh from anyone blessed with a long life, Bryson readily concedes. But the “miracle of human life,” he points out, “is not that we are endowed with some frailties but that we aren’t swamped with them.”
I seemed to squint more as I read Bryson’s encouraging words, a sign I might need to update my prescription lenses. The ophthalmologist, no doubt, will tell me I see pretty well for a man my age.