Lost Youth, Lost Cartilage: Getting Older is Not 75% Pain-Free

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I opened my inbox to this header yesterday morning: “pain-free joints”.  It was another one of those cheap ad copies trying to sell a miracle cure. The sub-heading read: “Regrow cartilage by 51% in days…” The ellipsis points – indicating that the people writing this, overwhelmed by the magnitude of their discovery, were at a loss for words – were followed by the breathless claim that, “THIS harmless joint “acid” reduces pain by 75%!”

Wait a minute, I thought. First of all, how did you know, you anonymous online junkmailers? How the hell did you know about my pain-shackled joints, those knees that have lost most of their grisly padding, that sweet sweet cartilage that in my prelapsarian youth, had kept me bouncing around a court or field or pitch with nary a hint of the pain hovering on the horizon? I thought that was MY secret, the kind of information people at the three-quarter mark of their lives reveal to their partners and complain about to their doctors, or vice-versa. Who told you about my knees, huh? Was it my doctor? Did he send you an email with my medical files attached, including those cloudy X-rays exposing my meatless knees for what they had become: cartilage-free, bone-on-bone mush? Or maybe my wife, fed up with my endless whining, sent my personal data to an Internet marketer. I couldn’t really blame her if she did.


No, I thought as the paranoia drained away and reason settled in. Cookies – leaving crumbs that led all the way to my inbox – that’s what did it. Once I typed the phrase “knee pain” into my search engine, I was opening myself up to this deluge of exuberant promises to magically return my knees to their tennis backhand-lunging days. 

Sure, I’d love to regrow all that worn-away cartilage back but give me better odds please. And how did they (whoever they were) come up with that figure, 51%? Where did they find that one extra percent, dangling there just over the halfway mark like a bright orange carrot? I mean, why not 52%, since I’m still sitting on the fence at 51%? They (?) could have had me at 52%, but they blew it. A 51% regrowth of my cartilage won’t get me back to tennis lunging the way 52%, or even 53% might. So no, I’m not buying it. And what’s with the “harmless joint acid”? Either we’re talking some kind of drug deal ( does this “acid” hallucinate me out of my pain? What’s in those “joints” anyway?) or this “acid” is like Hammerite Rust Remover that’ll leave me with no knees and still 25% of the pain. I did the math. If they had bumped up that number on the pain reduction front – say 80% or 90% – I might’ve gone down their rabbit hole.

But I stopped reading the ad copy there, if only because the whole thing depressed me, the fraudulent-numbered pitch reminding me of my 68 year-old ailments, 68 being a true number and no imagined percentage. Ah sweet, dumb and blind, pain-free youth. It made me remember things about my body I’d forgotten. Running to catch a football… BEHIND MY BACK! (Note the ellipsis points, in this case the suspension indicating that what follows them is to be EMPHASIZED!!) Oh boy, in my boundless youth did I ever exploit those cartilage-stuffed knees. Playing third base for the Eureka Marines Little League baseball team in Oakland, I dove and leaped and chased after balls with such insouciance, as if I had a safe deposit box of cartilage in a bank that I could access at any time down the road. Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means, time held me green and dying. Though I sang like the sea in my chains.

Those last lines are from one of my all-time favorite poems on this theme of the mourning of lost youth, Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas. Each year that passes, each time I read it, the poem sings to me in a new key. Most of all I feel the emotion behind it. The sense of loss,of time passing and the remembrance of a youth and the shadow of a hand from the future passing over it. 

The second stanza has all the saudade of a Portuguese fado.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
     In the sun that is young once only,
          Time let me play and be
     Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
          And the sabbath rang slowly
     In the pebbles of the holy streams.

Time let me play and be, Golden in the mercy of his means. We start out green and carefree, playing in a young-only-once sun on knees full of cartilage, but in the end we learn that it was only a temporary bargain, that Time is holding us “green and dying”. We may be singing like the sea in our chains, but let it be a glorious song, ever green and carefree, as we live.



  1. “Let it be a glorious song, ever green and carefree, as we live…”

    Sounds better than George Bernard Shaw, “They’re brainless, and don’t know what they have; they squander every opportunity of being young, on being young.”

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