COMES A TIME – Then and Now

“What makes old age hard to bear is not the failing of one’s faculties, mental and physical, but the burden of one’s memories.” – W. Somerset Maugham

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Then & Now

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It is approaching summer and a dead leaf lies in the wet grass visibly shaking in the wind, as if it had a season of splendor ahead of it to foliage in the stifling green of the Berkshires. Each day in New England trembles with the excitement of not knowing which way the wind blows, cold and damp or hot and humid. Here mold grows between the teeth of timber, and under the fingernails of anything that scratches above the surface of the firmament. I am here for whatever reason the universe is nudging me towards eternity, and I am thankful for the Innkeepers courtesy. Everything I do lends itself to everything I need to do, subconsciously, or in my face, to get to where I have always been moving towards.

Some days are better than others. This is not a frivolous axiom but a fact of passing through. If one travels down memory lane, those long stretches of highway, where nothing passes but the lines between oncoming trials and tribulations, and all of that that lingers momentarily in the rear view mirror; what should remain is those short breaths of life coming from a whisper of thank you. There is no need to shout or exclaim, for anything a decibel above silence is all that is needed to revel in the beauty of the moment.

Mi esposa waits on my journey south. When togetherness is but a week away, after a long journey through a winter apart, separation brings a sadness that needs only a sweet hello, a smile, an eye to eye understanding that longing is no longer a part of communication.

Behind me a blur of activity, dissolution and expectation sliding into a distant memory, the cork swollen and dry, never again needing to fit, for the bottle well received is graciously empty. Nothing left for the gods. The names of faces and places never forgotten, like the last drabs of winter’s snow wait on the curb ready to fall into the gutter and disappear down the drain. Three thousand miles later, the street sweepers brush away the remnants of a winter’s memory while a golden butterfly dances on the light of a brilliant bougainvillea.

Days now have names like Lunes, Viernes, Sabado and Domingo, and come and go at their own pace, in this place, now called home. A dominion of diamonds and dust where wealth buys you a view and more rooms then you’ll ever need to live in.

When the connection between then and now times out, it doesn’t really matter. Your mind refocuses on the immediate, dogs talk to one another and their barks echo across the mountains with the boom booms. There is a constant cluck and trill nullifying chatter, implanting the sheen of afterrain on the blossoms of a peaceful mind. Dawn has shifted from the alarming dark entrance into day’s hustle—the 5 a.m. lurch into insanity; to a subtle awareness, casually around 8 or 9; the gentle scraping at the bedroom door suggesting the cats want breakfast, roosters rolling their r’s wafting in chorus from the village below, a mist of light washing the dust from your eyes, an appreciation that life has for the moment in eternity, settled here on the shores of Lake Chapala.

**

There’s a seasonal thing

about this life we live

benchmarks that have a history,

quarterly objectives unmet and mastered,

a mile marker that you remember

in passing along the way.

good feelings ingrain themselves

at a very early age and never let go,

only, if only you enter laughing,

and somehow never let go

of the possibility, no matter

how slight the meaning,

of joy

for misery needs a definition

and wanting comes with loss.

There are blocks of life where life has left

holes in the garment I was born to wear.

years where the waves came crashing in,

and years where the sands tumbled into empty spaces

leaving gold nuggets and empty shells,

sucked into the undertow of subliminal anxiety

and fear of knowing,

into the comfort

of silence and forgetfulness.

nothing to hide,

nothing to remember,

the broom and dustpan of our memory

sweeping anything and everything

into the holes we create in our conscience

where all,

all thoughts and actions,

from the sublime to the inhumane,

can be forgiven.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comes A Time – In-Between Before and After

“You get old and you realize there are no answers, just stories.” – Garrison Keillor

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In-Between Before and After

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I was floundering on, as usual, until she gave my soul a slap—well deserved at that. I dug myself out of the fiction of life and devoured the books on enlightenment she gave me to read. She wondered if I had the will power to see the light. It was all candlelight at first. Then slowly, over time, my mind’s eye adjusted to the sunlight that entered my life.

Maybe it helped, maybe it didn’t. I hit bottom and bounced back. I got a job with insurance. If that wasn’t bait enough to entice her to give it another go—I finally had a home for her to come back to. I was still dubious about whether angels actually existed, at least in my dimension. Until that is, I decided to quit smoking. I did it the hard way—lung cancer. And those new age guru quantum mystic holistic health specialists she turned me on to—maybe they helped, maybe they didn’t, but at least I’m not now working on re-incarnation therapy.

She was a reluctant angel, but she saved my life. Because of her I learned to listen. What baffles the body at times undermines the spirit. Yet the body-mind intention is ever clear. The essence of some sensibility so out of place, so foreign in a private space—was there—and wanted me to be aware. I had come to understand that what is received by one cell, entering the vast emptiness, is complete in every sense. Nothing enters the body and is not heard, and I heard the cancer deep in the dark recesses of my lung.

Everybody knows about the hole in the bucket. It’s where reality, the visible world on the other side of the plate glass window of your mind, slowly leaks into the emptiness of time and space. Until one day you find you have arrived in the here and now, and the bucket’s empty.

How was it that the illusion of happiness, the lingering smell of sweat and damp sheets, the cocoon of comfort wrapped around my brain, could, in the course of a conversation, over a cup of coffee, or sitting on the edge of the bed, turn into an aloneness, without substance, an accumulation of a lifetime of togetherness with nothing to hold onto. Waking to nobodies home anymore meant I was left with my own rewards.

She had told me it was never complicated—if you can’t cook, stay out of the kitchen. If you don’t love yourself, leave romance well enough alone. I had put her emails in a folder in my memory box along with the record album of the music we loved—it had a groove in it where the heartache began.

That was in-between before and after. The lung grew back nice and white like a nun’s wimple. I learned to cook and felt good about shaving the face in the mirror.

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It’s Just a Story

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It’s just a story. Albeit our story.

I’m not questioning it.

How far can you take it,

this syncopathic relationship?

This vibrational accompaniment?

A tumor grows in me, and so too with you.

Aware in empathetic wonderment

to the extreme possibly.

Awash in dawns’ subtle light

the trill of a mock of blue birds

through the open window,

a purr at the foot of the bed. 

What more needs to be said?

To share another day,

to be so awake in how love reaches out

and defines itself without words

is unquestionably our story

nothing unreasonable happens

and there you are

wandering around a room

full of memories.

good ones mind you,

for nothing should be carried forward

that does not shed a light

on the loving side of you

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comes A Time – Senescent Choices

 

“It is a mistake to regard age as a downhill grade toward dissolution. The reverse is true.  As one grows older, one climbs with surprising strides.” –  George Sand

 

Senescent Choices

 

Life it seems is what I wake up with. All of a sudden it is today. Sure, I have a few aches and pains. Daily my body expands and flattens, my feet grow wider as I shrink. Not going gently into the night bits and pieces fall apart, are manufactured and left overnight on my nightstand. I am here, having journeyed a lifetime to get to where I have a need to step out of the picture, and elevate the consciousness of illusion in an endeavor to know myself.

We don’t travel on an unmarked road, however, it is possible to miss the milestones and signs along the way that provide choices. Sometimes we need to recollect what just happened along the route in order to make sense of it all. Sometimes oncoming decisions need to be made immediately without the opportunity to reflect, and if we don’t pay attention, the road may just come to a dead end having missed our cutoff. That’s where choice comes in. Cancer was a sign that said time to turn here.

A sexagenarian friend of mine is financially able to retire comfortably, but remains dedicated to pursuing a line of work he says all his previous working life has led him to. After an expensive divorce, a bout with cancer and lingering aftermath, an early golden handshake, and a gift card from the government for officially being old, you’d think it would be time to stop expanding in the universal scheme of things, whoadown, slow down, leave behind the rebound, spend time staying healthy doing the daily comealong, and not much more. Anything but back to work. Yet. Who knows where that road may lead?

I’m not saying that it’s ever time to stop. If you don’t use it, you know, it wears down from lack of friction with life, and rusts. Neuroscience research shows the brain’s biological growth reaches full maturity around age 25. If it did keep growing no one would be able to wear those ubiquitous baseball caps. Continuous higher learning and occupational attainment, on the other hand changes the brain and every experience brings on cognitive growth. Decision making, planning, relationships, the part of the brain that makes us human just keeps chucking along when we use it, for better or worse. H.L. Mencken’s observation that the older he grew, the more he distrusted the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom probably has some merit based on some of the curmudgeons I know. Older brains chock full of expert erudition relevant to a pursuit or passion when utilized for solving problems and coming up with solutions slows the mental aging process.

So who’s to say which is the better choice, keeping the pedal to the metal on the road you’re on, or taking the next turn to follow your dreams? No matter how long it takes there is an ending to everything. Is it possible that what we are after, after all, is an expression of self, and in that an understanding of what it is we are meant to do? All choices are worthy of consideration, or for what reason would we have to wonder, we have to question. I made the choice to follow my dream and take the exit heading for a quiet (sometimes) small village on the shore of Lake Chapala, Mexico, and have no regrets. As John Barrymore put it: “man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.”

 

Senior moments

gray cells synapsing

and disappearing into the ozone,

looking forever

for what’s right in

front of you.

in the ungluing of the universe

as you contemplate

the oneness of the world

the mindful exercise of being

in the moment,

goes beyond an ephemeral thought,

a shortness of breath,

and becomes reality

as we perceive it

a cocktail of awe and wonder

with an olive of doubt.

 

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Comes A Time – P.E.W.S.

 

 

no longer capable of dividing but still alive and metabolically active

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Available on Amazon

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P.E.W.S.

Notwithstanding the pickling and pruning of the average genarian the most widely seen cognitive change associated with aging is that of the Procedural, Episodic, Working, and Semantic memory. The functioning or lack of is uniquely personal and can be of some concern. Personally this memory/recall thing doesn’t really bother me until I think about it. If you live long enough all the closets in the upper house become cluttered with stuff you only go looking for when something or someone plants a seed, otherwise out of sight, out of mind.

I know I’m not alone when I leave my mind behind—climbing the stairs, entering a room going after something that, just an interminable second ago, was the most important priority, focus, quest on my agenda, only to return to the origin of the thought to re-enact what it might have been that I was after.

Perhaps it’s not that my motor skills are any less vibrant than when I was younger—I still remember how to ride a bike, it’s just that I’m not all that interested anymore in pedaling about, and I still could walk, talk and chew gum at the same time if it weren’t for my dentures. When it comes to how to do stuff I may have forgotten a few things, but now I know how to find it on YouTube or Wikihow.com.

Early grade school left me with just one off the top of my head episodic memory: the little old lady teaching grade 5 periodically zoning out and starting to take her clothes off in the front of the class, and someone always running to get a nun. Those mental tags about where, when and how information is picked up doesn’t sit out there on a garage sale table waiting to be plucked, they have to be searched for, and the search gets a little more interesting with the aging process.

Working at trying to manipulate the present is like trying to alter the past, and processing information is more work than the curmudgeon in me generally wants to deal with. Irritability comes on when decision making demands a perceived unreasonableness. I know if I pay attention I just might learn a thing or two, and if I’m lucky it will stick.

Seemingly patience has become my patron saint of forgetfulness. It allows me to abdicate responsibility in the land-of-forget-me-nots where grey-cells become the dandruff of should haves and oops, maybe, if only I had remembered what I … Sometimes it’s just lazy mind. With the esposa a walking Rolodex, I don’t really have to dig deep in the recesses of the skull for the names of people that I meet, and when searching for the meaning of things, Google has usurped my semantic memory, transferring recall from my cerebral cortex to my fingertips.

Do we really need to remember every name, place, event, taste, smell, song etc., why not take every new encounter as a surprise—a fresh face, a familiar but exotic smell, a subtle and refreshing taste, an exquisite moment, the feeling brought on by sound of the Moonlight Sonata. I have learned, and keep reminding myself, I need only to be the keeper of the world around me to relive the memory of all that I have known and cared for. I need to be joyful of memory and open to what comes along when it does, and when it does I’ll be seated in the first pew, knowing it will unfold in its own time at the altar of love.

 

Memory or no memory

just a question?

abdicating responsibility

in the land-of-forget-me-nots.

grey-cells become the dandruff

of should haves and oops,

maybe,

if only I had remembered

what I ……

Everyone leaves his or her mind behind

when they climb the stairs

enter a room

go after something that,

just an interminable second ago,

was the most important priority,

focus, quest, on their agenda. 

The mind sometimes,

is peculiar to itself

and ignores your concern.

Nothing particular, has an age about it,

except what others perceive,

transform in their minds what is,

in their consideration,

what old should look like.

Weathered being the primary observation

linked to previous exposure.

Nothing sticks when whatever

the day brings is just the way it is,

for the older you get,

the harder you get.

The more a word, an innuendo,

a tone taken tips the balance

of pain and pleasure.

the older you get,

the softer you get,

Nothing noteworthy sticking to the surface

of what may be a good day turned sour.

just another way

of saying, been there,

done with that.

 

Comes A Time – A Coming of Age

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.

Aging vacillates

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.

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A stage of -agenarian development

where it’s not worth maintaining

a decorum of politeness

when it comes to natural functions;

breathing,

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.

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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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Comes A Time – Comes a Time essay

Comes a Time

 

Comes a time, comes a time for dying when the shadow walks away. Up until it dawned on me in an evening of sunsets, it wasn’t anything I paid much attention to. Lacking an extended family to speak of, in half a century anyone who passed left me out of the equation. Everyone in my life came and went like two trains going in the opposite direction, a blur of faces in the windows.

I remember my first coffin. In grade 6 the nuns marched us out of class and across the street to Dwyer Funeral Home to say a meek little benediction over the body of someone they told us was important. To this day I cannot lie on my back with my hands folded over my chest. As an adult I avoided funerals as an end of life ceremony and preferred to remember the good things about the person I had known, that way they never really died on me.

My mother at 87 was the first personal close encounter with the reality that there really was the possibility I would end up in the proverbial dustbin. No open coffin though, cremation without ceremony was her option—she was heading straight for heaven. That was a lifetime ago. Since then aging has played games with the face in the mirror. And although I’m not particularly thrilled about having to end the journey I’m on, in the end the choice will be a foregone conclusion.

I do know that I have come full circle. In youth when everyday was sunrise and life engrossed all my senses, dying was a destiny I gave no thought to, and now having discarded time as irrelevant, reveling in the life that surrounds me, relegates death to just a likely possibility when the music stops playing. I can now reflect on the knowledge that dying is a part of living. Never so clear to me now that I live in a small Mexican village where it is an accepted part of daily life. For the first time I have been able to visit my neighbors coffin and remember him as he was and always will be in the hearts of those who passed his way. The familia celebración of el Abuelo brought tears to my eyes, not only for the sadness of those left behind, but for all the celebrations I missed thinking death was not something I cared to pay mind to.

The music I love no longer plays at the top of the charts, and the melodies that rattle in my morning mind are vinyl stages of life that began and ended like mile markers on the interstate. No matter how long it takes there is an ending to everything. Is it possible that what I was after, after all, was an expression of self, and that’s all I will leave behind? In the finale there could wellness be, the inauguration of the end of what I started out to do in the very beginning. I still cannot lie back with my hands folded over my chest, not for fear of dying, but because I want to reach out and hold on to everything.

 

 

 

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