Being old! That is so different from feeling old. Being old is what I think of other people, or what others may think of me. Feeling old is so much more personal. Feeling old is something that has crept up on me so much more recently.
I have noticed being old for a long time, as the ranks of my contemporaries has been thinning out. But now, I am noticing how the distances I want to cover, have to cover, seem so much further away. I am much slower in my reach, slower to pick up things, slower to get up and go. When did I develop that tremor that I never noticed before? Why do I not recall the name, the word, that I used to instantly recall? What’s happening? I must be getting old. It makes me feel old.
I have always reveled in the richness of my memories – memories of things that so many around me have not the least idea about. My past has become an irrelevancy. I have had to comfort myself with the private knowledge that the present all of us so take for granted is based on what I and my contemporaries had built so solidly in the past. If we were to dare recount our triumphs, we would be written off as old bores.
I find I now have a reluctance to add new articles to my closet. What I have there are the things I put on like old companions, which wrap me in comfort. The odds and ends I have accumulated are the precious reminders of my days of derring-do, when I traveled to the heart of darkness without a thought to the dangers that were present on every side. Those days we knew we were immortal.
Like the just desserts for the conquering hero, I earned my reward, albeit at the age of 71. Correcting the errors and omissions of a callow youth, lacking the courage of my convictions, throwing caution to the winds, I gained the love and companionship of my true love after an interregnum of more than 50 years. Thereafter, I had to learn how to appreciate the needs of others as the road to ultimately meeting my own. It took the reasoning and wisdom of advancing age, and altered priorities, to gain the knowledge that enabled me to reengineer the person that I was.
Each day, we launch our enterprise to meet the challenges of life. If the objective is to fill the pantry or the fridge, we count it a victory if we return home without having forgotten any of the items on the grocery list we carried in our minds. If we meet up with others to share a community activity, we count ourselves brilliant if we remember the names of our comrades. We have taken to the practice of notation to ensure we do not miss birthdays and anniversaries of even our closest kin. If all else fails, we resort to internet searches to compensate for any breaches we may come across in the things we surely know by heart. It is always a joint product as we seek to light the fires of memory in each other.
We are engaged in the habit of doing puzzles. I hate puzzles, but they are one of the medicines I faithfully take to counter the breaches in my armour that have accumulated over time. We exercise. Ditto to my personal appreciation of the activity. We socialize. I am most happy at home with a book or an exciting mystery or bang-up violence on my TV.
I do like to be surrounded by younger folk. That gives me a charge. The spontaneity of children is just marvelous to behold. And they are so beautiful to behold. I am sure having them in one’s life keeps one young, even if they sometimes tire you out. It is a good tired!
Generally, I happily do all those things the doctors tell us are good for our health. But no serious food exclusions. I am sure I will expire consuming one of those things we have been warned is bound to bring us to the edge of existence. I bear these admonitions in mind but am an inveterate cheater. Even if the time comes sooner, we have had a good run and I will go out smiling. (Don’t tell my wife, because she absolutely won’t hear of my going off without her.)
Some of us may miss the cut and thrust of being out in the world, struggling with the demons we all have to face, but it is a relief, in the end, to no longer worry about what might be happening behind our backs. We gaze out at the world more or less secure.
Being old without feeling old is the secret, isn’t it?
Max Roytenberg is a Vancouver-based poet, writer and blogger. His book Hero in My Own Eyes: Tripping a Life Fantastic is available from Amazon and other online booksellers.