Time to be old.

May 12, 2015 § 11 Comments

My family, young and old.

My family, young and old.

Being old feels sudden, a surprise sprung on me by life.

But the signal, like a pheromone that alerts every ant in the colony, has reached most members of my generation.

The news comes from the bodies we occupy. Joints don’t work as smoothly as they used to. Pains flare up, with no explanation but time. The mirror reflects an unfamiliar, old, face.

When we were young we caught death’s attention with our stupidity. Convinced we were immortal, we drove too fast, swallowed things just to see what would happen, hitched rides with strangers, swam when the flags were flying.

For those of us lucky enough to be growing old, death gave us a good scare, then let us go.

***

Death is back to scare us again, but without the just-kidding smile.

We have outlived our parents, becoming orphans.  Or we have become the keepers of those shadow-like parents.

Some of us have had a face-to-face talk with death in the chill quiet of a doctor’s office.

And all of us can hear the time that remains ticking.

The news we are old also comes from the teeming swarm of those younger than we are. They are rising and pushing—it is our time, you had your turn!

And we wish them well. Among them are our children and grandchildren, the ultimate compensation for growing old.

We matured at different rates. You might have been the kid who had a beard as a freshman in high school, or the kid who, like my husband, finished growing in the army.

The same is true at this end of life. We grow old at different rates, and yet we feel old together because we have done everything else together.

We wiggled our hips in the big hula hoop contest in the grocery store parking lot, hid under our desks to thwart the Russians, screamed for the Beatles, wore purple bell bottoms and white go-go boots, took our SATs, protested an unjust war, fell in love, found the donut in the pregnancy test, had careers.

And now we are retiring, taking up yoga, babysitting the grandchildren, recommending remedies for aches and pains, and blinking in astonishment at the sudden onset of old.

But while the reports from our bodies are alarming, the person inside that body is often getting better. The fever of acquisition has left us. “He who dies with the most toys wins” has been replaced by, “Who the heck filled my house with all this stuff?”

With an occasional package of new underpants or socks, we’re just fine.

The all mighty and domineering “I” has stopped yelling, “Look at me!” and is working quietly to improve things.

Our days are not casually torn up and tossed like confetti.

We appreciate every single one.

Although it is in short supply, we take our time. We look at the world with love, and as if we may be saying goodbye.

My body, so far, remains a pretty comfortable place to live. I appreciate it knowing that for some pain overwhelms all other aspects of life. And with this mostly comfortable body I have the freedom to enjoy being old, and the peace that comes with not striving or proving or struggling to impress.

Like a very young child I am back to simply being.  The sun is just coming up and I have a whole new day ahead of me.

Who could ask for more?

Note: These thoughts are beautifully expressed by Ralph Waldo Emerson in his poem Terminus which begins:

It is time to be old, to take in sail…

Please read it. Emerson ennobles this last stretch of the journey that is life as only a great poet can.

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