Saturday, April 19, 2014

What is "old"?

I have spent much of this last year thinking about the fact that I am rapidly approaching my 60th birthday.  What does that mean?  It sounds like a milestone.   Something to achieve, but what?   I have been trying to get "fit" as I get closer to that birthday called "60".  Why?   I think I am afraid of getting "old". I have not really thought about how I define that age, or the word old.  It just seems to be something to stay ahead of somehow.

Somewhere, in the far reaches of my mind, old is frightening.  Old is being disabled and unable to keep up.  Getting left behind.  Being forgotten somehow.   I'm not sure if I am saying it right.

My mother had a stroke that left her permanently disabled at 61 (or was it 62?).  Anyway, I am afraid of that, I think.  She suddenly went from being a very active woman into being an invalid.    Look at that word:  "invalid"- not valid.  That is so sad.  That is so much what I do not want.  I am not ready.  I don't know that anyone is ready, or if they are, how do they know?

I while ago I wrote on this log about my "bucket list".  Who knew at that time that I had a tumor in my brain?  Not me.   I was writing, cavalierly about all of the places I want to go and things I want to see.   No thoughts of mortality. Really there weren't.   I mean, I know that I am going to die.  And when I do, that's that.  Done.  Shop closed.  Bye bye.  All over.      But on some level, I was glib.  Not really deeply thinking about mortality.

I have dealt with mortality as much as the next guy.  People die.  People you love die.  Young people die.  Old people die.  Even babies die.  I have grieved and mourned.  I have held the hand of my mother as she died.   I have kissed the cheek and patted the hands of friends who are not alive any more.  I know these things.  I know I too will die. But somehow it is still an abstract notion.  It is the destination.  And nobody really knows why. Or to where.  If anywhere at all.

“Life is a journey, not a destination.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson
What did Emerson know? What did he mean?   Why did he say that?   Ralph Waldo Emerson died just shortly before he turned 79.  Did he feel old?  I wonder when he started to feel old.  Was it at a certain numerical age or a mental/ psychological/ cultural age?  Or did he ever "feel" old? I have read that in his final years. Emerson was unable to conjure up the words and ideas that he wanted to express, and was quite embarrassed by that.  So, I guess he did feel old.  
And so, in comes my brain tumor.  How old is it?  How long has it been there sharing life with me?  I know that children, even babies, get brain tumors, so this is not what is going to make me old .  But I suspect it is aging me.  Making me think about the things I am writing right now.

Is "old" such a bad thing to be after all?   As we so often joke "it's better than the alternative",of course, with the subtext that the alternative is death.  Yup.

If you ask anyone, your own children included, "am I old?", the answer will almost always be "no", unless of course you ask a young child who doesn't yet understand that being old is taboo.

And so, for today, I am not old yet.  I guess.  I am 59.  In two weeks I will be 60. I have a brain tumor.  My head hurts.  My body aches.  I am not a grandmother. Maybe that's why I am not old.  Nah?   

I am energetic (well not as much as I would like, but this goddamn tumor has to answer for that).  I see the wonder in the world around me.  I am loved.  I love.   I see goodness.  I try to work toward helping others find goodness and peace.  That's who I am.
Here are some quotes I stole from a web site:
 Bernard Baruch
To me old age is always fifteen years older than I am.

William Butler Yeats
From our birthday, until we die, is but the winking of an eye.

Joan Rivers
Looking fifty is great… if you're sixty.

Mark Twain
When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it happened or not.

Lord Hood
Some people reach the age of sixty before others.

John Dryden
What, start at this! when sixty years have spread
Their grey experience o'er thy hoary head?
Is this the all observing age could gain?
Or hast thou known the worl so long in vain?

Pablo Picasso
One starts to get young at the age of sixty and then it is too late.

Tom Stoppard
Age is a high price to pay for maturity.

If we could be twice young and twice old we could correct all our mistakes.