Saturday, September 1, 2012

Musings of the Nouveau Elderly

Me, holding my hammer. MY hammer. Don't touch it, dammit. “Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rage at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” – Dylan Thomas Dylan Thomas was writing of his dying father when he penned that poem in 1951, or so the story goes. You can find the complete text online or at the library or perhaps on your own bookshelf. Brief digression: Thomas speaks of wise men, good men, wild men, and grave men in the poem, and as I read it I substituted “women” for “men,” an old habit that I and many women have developed over the years in order to see how texts speak to our condition. As I grow older, and old, that first stanza has become something of an anthem. There is an expression: “growing old gracefully.” At some point I decided to grow old disgracefully, to “rage against the dying of the light.” When we are young we wish to live for a long time - forever, if possible. When we are young we cannot imagine what growing older really is. When I was young I had this idea that I would have an adventurous old age. That was before life happened, with the accidents and illnesses that pruned my body’s abilities and energies. Adventure can be hard on the human body. When we hit our 60s, my husband started to say we were “nouveau elderly,” edging into the so-called golden years. We did not plan for those illnesses and accidents to happen to us. These things were not part of my youthful imagination of what old age would be, but I have heard it said that aging is caused by accidents. Not entirely true, but I see the point. In the fantasy old age, we would continue to live the life of someone in their 20s or 30s, complete with an active sex life. The reality of growing older, and old, is quiet, watching the roses bloom and laughing at the antics of the crows and blue jays and squirrels that come for the orts I throw out in the yard. As for sex, well, here’s a rhyme I just made up: Sex Is complex. That’s the chorus. You’ll have to supply your own verses. Beyond that, I’m not going to discuss it here. Sorry if you were anticipating hot stuff, but I really do not wish to talk about it. So here we are, going slower, but still going. Old age is a new country, and it brings limitations both physical and financial. There is sometimes a feeling of being trapped, and it is against that trapped feeling that I sometimes rage. The best answer I can give to the question of growing old is to live as fully as I can. I thank God for every day, and for the illumination and sustenance of a faith that has grown deep and wide over years of practice. That is how I rage against the dying of the light. I see my children and their friends experience bitter disappointments and hard times of young adulthood as they navigate their 20s and 30s, and I feel for them, and I love them, and I pray for them. I have the perspective that their hard times are part of their ongoing education, a necessary mordant to bring out the bright colors of being alive. It’s hard to see that when you’re going through pain, but it’s easier to see in retrospect. There is a blessing in growing older, knowing that some things cannot be fixed or helped, and that is life. I’ve been sighing to myself for years that sometimes life bites, and all you can do is be bitten. We elders had to take our lumps, cry our tears, feel our rage, ride our highs and triumphs, and live on to see all of those things dwindle in the rear view mirror, and so shall you, my dears, so shall you. By the time you are my age you’ll understand deep in your heart that all things do pass, your troubles, your joys, your precious youth, your offspring’s childhood. If there is not so much ecstasy in the ocean of age, neither is there so much frantic despair, and there are deeps of contentment. Life is good, and it’s temporary. It’s not what we thought it would be, but we like being here. We’ll enjoy it while it lasts. Now hand me my cane. I have to tell those damn kids to get off the lawn.

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