You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old. George Burns
The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been. Madeleine L’Engle
Though retired since last June, I was recently asked to participate in a graduate class in which students were presenting research about retirement and old age. I was not to present data; I was to offer perspective. In other words, I was the token retired geriatric, well qualified to speak about the subject from a wrinkled guy’s experience. Near 74 is apparently fairly ancient from a group of 30 somethings. An 88-year-old friend of mine looks back at 74 and offers his perspective: “Yeah, those were the days!”
It’s a crazy world for many younger folks. Debt and politics and conspiracies and civil unrest and the pandemic and the continuing population growth at 2021 Wits End, Nutsville, Earth, can be daunting. What can these grad students expect? If they survive, one gets older and goes through the ol’ circling-the-drain routine. Welcome folks! Make room as you’re not alone.
This human craziness and the alarm at growing old is not new—it was that way when I was younger, it was that way for my parents and their parents and so on down the line. It may be the way it is in the present human evolvement. I think history will back me up on this.
Yep, if you’re newly adult on the planet, this craziness seems new. Yep, we’ve got elected officials saying we’re not going to be able to eat hamburgers because of the green deal. We won’t be able to carry weapons of any kind. There won’t be police. We’ll be socialists at best, maybe communists. We’ll be so far in debt; bread will cost a fortune. We won’t recognize ourselves anymore, having been taken over by immigrants. Education and Libs are teaching the “cancel culture” and insuring PC-speak. Individuality is at risk as we’re all being told what to do and how to act. One elected “official” (I think we actually have a three-party system, with The Blathering Heads Party and their Giant Moving Mouth mascot having become a force) actually offered that if one is vaccinated, why would they care if others get vaccinated? Fascinating exercise in “logic.” Another member of our third political party landed on demanding a date when we can get back to “normal”—exactly when will the pandemic end? His base wants to know and it’s his responsibility to get an answer! And what will happened to those with privilege? This is very important. I mean, who’s looking out for that likely loss, given the demand to fund the obviously lazy? They have the same opportunities as everyone else—just because it didn’t work out for them, why should others have to pay? Is this what happens when we elect folks who are adept at getting our attention instead of adept at doing their job?!
My head spins and not because I’m in the geriatric set. It spun when I was younger and heard variations about the same kind of thing.
Fear is a great way to prematurely age, not to mention a fine platform for getting elected. And to stay elected.
Productive aging? Get yours while you can. If you’re safe, all is well in the world, right?
In spite of my sarcasm, in spite of my age, in spite of the wild population growth in Nutsville, in spite of the obvious need for universal mental-health care, I offered to those grad students my thought about keeping wonder alive. About the role of curiosity and novelty. It might be important to not know everything. To wonder about stuff. To wonder about not-stuff. I thought consideration for practicing awareness without interpretation might be worthwhile. None of that means the end of compare & contrast, categorize & control. It might mean those four things are tools, not to be confused with identifying as a tool instead of as a human being. And about identity—it changes, and our awareness of the change lags behind those changes. Does growing older become easier if we drag around our past? Will growing older be easier if we compulsively rub all the worry-stones in our bag of troubles?
And of course, as I’m no sage-on-stage, consider I might be wrong. I might sound like I got at least the idea and language, but I’m just as susceptible to the same deadfalls. I’ve spent much of my life struggling with low-grade depression—sometimes morphing into deeper depression (I heard someone ask why does one say “I have a headache, but say I am depressed?”). Then there’s the concerns about making a positive contribution, especially when one has a limited tool bag. Getting married and divorced is quite the deadfall. Being a father seemed mostly a bumbling journey. So did earning a living. Learning to pay attention is nearly always necessary, it just gets more obvious in the geriatric phase. One may know how to walk and run, but that doesn’t mean one can forgo attention in favor of the “driver-assist” mode. So much going on. No wonder I struggled with my posture.
I don’t know if my geriatric musings are yawners or amusing, but they didn’t come from being geriatric—they came from still being alive and still wondering and still being amazed, even if and when I lose it. And I do lose it and way too often. Funny how awareness of stuff and space, whether negative or positive, can be a dose of uplift.
Life is at least what happens between birth and death. Cruise-control is for open highways, not for all roads at all times. Community and individuality and many other “ands” are at play. As for Nutsville—a carnival can be a fun indulgence and carnival barkers and wild tales can be entertaining. But to live in Nutsville may not be the place to put down roots and grow old. Some roots are tangles and aging can come prematurely—the dementia spectrum (and that’s not just limited to cognitive and/or motor dementia). Some flying away can get one too close to the sun—the Icarus Syndrome.
Maybe these lyrics (I’ve used them before in these musings) from the Incredible String Band’s the Puppet Song will help: “…all your so hard facts painted thinly on the void why were you not more pleasantly employed…” Or perhaps this notion from Richard Bach’s book Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah: (the backdrop is the “messiah” listens to the anguished pleas from the assembled throng, who lament their woes and offer their willingness to do anything to be saved): 30. “And what would you do,” the Master said unto the multitude, “if God spoke directly to your face and said, ‘I command that you be happy in the world, as long as you live.’ What would you do then?” 31. And the multitude was silent, not a voice, not a sound was heard upon the hillsides, across the valleys where they stood.
Welcome to the ride! Enjoy it, if you don’t mind. Change it, if you do and if you are able.
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