November 1, 2012 § 13 Comments
I am new at being old. Although, at sixty-one I can probably maintain my amateur status a while longer.
Having always been young my subconscious reaction is that being old is something I will get over, like a cold. I will look in the mirror and the face I see will be the one I know, not my mother’s.
Words like “tousled” make the disheveled state of waking up sound cute.
The old do not get tousled. Their hair just sticks up funny and their faces, when slept on wrong, stay creased a long time.
The visual side of aging is not pretty, but in my judgment one thing improves. The eyes. The eyes of the young are bigger, wider, the skin around them smooth, but the eyes of the old are deep and wise. The wrinkles around my eyes are wrinkles I like. They bear witness to a lifetime of smiling.
Why dwell on it? What happens to the body is inevitable, sped or delayed by habit, genetics, luck, but it is the experience of the spirit as the body ages I am trying to understand.
For me growing old began in earnest with the deaths of my parents. Life is a climb up a tree, reaching for higher branches, always following more experienced climbers who reach back to help. With the death of my parents I suddenly broke through the tangle of shadow, leaf and branch and found my head in the sky, the view unobstructed, alone in a wind that often feels as if it wants to tear me loose.
Being unmoored from life has begun to happen to those I know. The generation that came before mine has almost all gone. Now it is my generation’s turn. I saw on facebook that one of my classmates from Princetion High had died. The network that is the far-flung class of ’69 trembled. What did he die of? It had to be an illness—we can’t be dying of the accumulation of time, not yet.
No, not yet, but soon.
What? I say, feeling breathless. Already? I can’t catch up with this new old self. I still feel as if I belong at the kid’s table drinking out of a plastic cup.
Then I remember, I was an amateur at being twelve too. Man, did I suck at being twelve, trying to be cool, worrying about how I looked more than I did about the fact I was flunking algebra. And eighteen? Suddenly I’m in college. How did this happen? Married? Pregnant?
It’s like time is that kid in the cafeteria who pulls the chair out from under me. The lunch tray and I land on the floor every time.
But there’s a difference. In the past the resounding clatter of cheap china hitting linoleum was the next big stage in life–something I should have seen coming.
I now face the unknown.
And here is the strangest thing. I have never felt happier or more at peace. As time runs short I take more particular notice of each moment instead of following the old driving rule of watching the road six cars ahead.
I’m here. Perhaps the most here I’ve ever been–and the most alive.