A Coming of Age
As a certifiable Septuagenarian I now, on occasion, think about aging and growing old. I suppose it comes with the body politic. Never have liked the word “old” unless, as Francis Bacon remarked it appears to be best in four things; old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read.
A 2009 Pew Research study indicated that the average respondent believed old age begins in the mid-sixties, and older as opposed to younger believed old age started at a much later point. That’s a no brainer. In a Daily Mail article, according to young Brits, old age starts at 52. I’ll have none of it. I knew someday if the good lord willing I might reach the seventh age of man described by Jacque in William Shakespeare’s As You Like It; as second childishness and mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything…and all that didn’t sound too appealing to me.
Living in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts old was in; New Yorkers and Bostonians fought over decrepit chairs and 3 legged tables once buried in the dust of damp and moldy barns, on sale as priceless antiques of the not so ancient pilgrims. Malcolm Cowley in his book of personal essays, The View from Eighty he quotes an octogenarian friend “They tell you that you lose your mind when you grow older, but what they don’t tell you is that you won’t miss if very much.”
The word “old” needs a little help standing on its own, and it has nothing to do with canes and walkers, it’s the tags that follows it around like an old dog: old bag, old fogey, and old timer. I can relate to defining old as of former times, like days of old, having been aged for a comparatively long time, as in old brandy. My commanding officer in the Air Force was the old man, and that was acceptable. Unacceptable would be the terminology dating back to 1775 for wife or mother as the old lady. That might have worked for the founding fathers but politically incorrect today. Mi Esposa occasionally has to remind me “you’re getting old honey,” but that’s usually when certain parts of my anatomy won’t take no for an answer. The word aging on the other hand is the process of becoming older. In the narrow sense, the term refers to biological aging of human beings, and other living creatures.
Lewis Thomas writes in his book of essays The Fragile Species: “It is possible to say all sorts of good things about aging when you are talking about aging free of meddling diseases. It is an absolutely unique stage of human life—the only stage in which one has both the freedom and the world’s blessing to look back and contemplate what has happened during one’s lifetime instead of pressing forward to new high deeds.”
Here’s the rub, things can and do go south in the process of aging: one thing after another goes wrong, and the cumulative impact of these failures is the image of aging. However, normal aging is not a disease at all, but a stage of living that cannot be averted or bypassed except in one way, nicely summed up by Maurice Chevalier; “Old age isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.” Nevertheless many regard aging as a slow death with everything going wrong. Florida Pier Scott-Maxwell, a playwright, author and psychologist, nearing her nineties wrote “When a new disability arrives, I look about me to see if death has come, and I call quietly, ‘Death, is that you? Are you there?’ and so far the disability has answered, ‘Don’t be silly. It’s me.”
When I finally did come to the awareness I was aging somewhat, I was encouraged by the latest discoveries in cell biology—my body, with a few exceptions has a makeover every 10 years or so with old cells discarded and new ones generated, the pace depending on the workload. Why I don’t act my physical age is because there are some ornery cells hanging in there from birth to death. My brain has mind of its own and doesn’t generate new neurons except in mediating the sense of smell, and where I remember faces and places. I’m not there yet, but I guess someday I could be referred to as an old fart.
Doris Lessing wrapped it all up for me when she said, “The great secret that all old people share is that you really haven’t changed in seventy or eighty years. Your body changes, but you don’t change at all. And that, of course, causes great confusion.” I want to think I’ve aged more like a gem of polished driftwood washed up on a white sandy shore rather than a gnarly old oak tree all bark, no bite.
between acceptance and intolerance
or is it that we reach a stage of gestation
where we just don’t care
to hold anything inside, anymore.
A stage of -agenarian development
where it’s not worth maintaining
a decorum of politeness
when it comes to natural functions;
expressing an opinion,
and of course flatulating.
Bodily functions have a humor all their own;
kids guffaw at farts,
women smile at fluffs,
and old farts just don’t give a damn.
Nobody talks about it.
Everyone turns their head and ignores it.
Life goes on.
On a given day, everything consumed,
is digested and then exuded.
It’s how books are written and read.
thoughts are shaped and spread,
how life absorbs creation
and is put to bed.
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