#aging #elderly #octogenarian
Eighty! Eight-Zero, brother. Now that’s old. Old as dirt I remember a television program that was on in the 1950s called, “Life Begins at Eighty.” It featured a panel white haired octogenarians so perky that the audience almost believed an ancient truth was embedded in the title of the show.
Back then, of course, people in the eighties were not as common as today. bypass surgery, diet, pharmaceuticals, exercise, less strenuous chores around the home, stretched out expectancy tables. Life expectancy for a male at in the middle of the last century was 70 years. By the start of this, it had gone up nearly 10%. And, maybe, just maybe, 80 is not as old in the twenty-first century. It’s hard to tell.
I was sitting in the waiting room to my doctor’s office not long ago and a young man came in with an old gent I took to be his father. The old man was hobbled and bent, struggled with a cane, seemed mildly confused by the signing-in process, all under his son’s watchful eyes, until it was time for them to be seated. A nurse called out a name, and the old guy struggled to his feet, nodded to his son, and tottered off to be examined. “Your dad?” I asked the younger man. .
“Looks like he is struggling a bit. How old is he?”
“Seventy-four.” Good grief, I thought, five years younger than I. I felt sorry for the old man.
“There’s a great difference once people hit seventy,” my internist said when I my turn came up to be called into her office. “Some age quickly and others hang on to a youthfulness that defies medical science. You, for example, you are one of those.”
“But I have had my problems. My siblings did not live as long as I.”
“Yes, but you had surgery and rebounded from it. You have maintained a healthy weight. Your color is good, and it’s my job to keep you alive for the next twenty years.”
The Finish Line . . .
Oh, that’s right. There it was. The finish line. Twenty years. Twenty more years. I should put up a chart and start checking them off. I’d settle for twenty. Every day comes the thought that I’m running out of time. I wrote about it once earlier. Like being in a boat on a huge lake. You notice time passing as you move away from shore, the years of childhood, and as you approach the beach on the opposite side of the water, the end of life. But while you are out in the center, you bob along blissfully unaware that you are burning up your most precious possession – your time. At 80 or sometimes sooner, time becomes more precious. The amount left becomes palpably short. I quit playing full court basketball at the YMCA just twenty-two years ago, the same amount of time the separated my birth from my college graduation. Yet the last two plus decades went by like an afternoon at the beach. I’d better focus on what is left. No cancellations accepted. No postponements. I’m due to report when called and that’s all there’s to it.
I can hide out in moments when I am contented. When I am writing. Rehearsing for a play. But the reality of time running out inevitably returns to consciousness. I always want more. I love my life. Vitality doesn’t go away but the holding tank gets smaller. There is no brimming of the reserves. Once I could work ten to twelve hours building a lakeside cabin in Wisconsin. Now forty-five minutes behind a lawn mower exhausts me. I like working with a chain saw cutting firewood for our living room fireplace. I hold up for about an hour, ninety minutes tops, on a good day. I pace myself. Cut a log. Stack the log. Find another log. Cut it. I set up a rhythm to the job to enjoy it and last longer. I choose logs by color, scent, and grain. No mindless rush to finish. I want make it the fullest experience possible. Theirs is no something else when you are old. Where you are is what there is. Perhaps it should always have been so.
There is no yet-to-be discovered rhapsodic love awaiting to make the spirit soar. That is the foolishness of young people. The foolishness of my own youth and great literature. Humans keep going for the same old bait, the same illusions. Everything ends. Even the greatest loves end. Others do not fulfill us. It’s our job to find our own way. Others help. Affirmation along the way is a powerful thing, but it is our job to believe, to feel worthy. Love dwells more fully in a healthy spirit, one eager and capable of giving as well as being grateful and open to receive.
A Gift . . .
Love is a gift. I don’t understand it. I do know what destroys it. I know what I can do to deepen it. Love is greater than anything I created all by myself. But it is no accident either. Over the years we have been together, my wife and I have attended to our love for each other with consideration, tolerance, humor, affection, and respect. I start my eightieth confident my wife loves me. She loves me more after 35 years of marriage than she did when we first started going together. I love her. I enjoy the memories of our years together and find them enduringly pleasant, but memories do not hold up against the joy of seeing her come back from some errand or eager to show me something she has picked up while she was out.
Having my children here to celebrate my eightieth was nothing short of glorious. My love for them has deepened over thy years. I have, with each of them, survived threats to our relationships. Misunderstandings. Hurt. Anger. But we weathered every storm and came through stronger in our affection and respect for one another. “Children” no longer fits for any of them. They are my sons and daughter. Progeny. That’s the word for it. They are wonderful, grown, immensely capable human beings. I am proud of each one of them, my stepson as son among them.
At lunch this week, a friend who has known me for at least 30 years, said, “You have nothing to prove.” He was sincere and his words drifted down into the quiet pools of my inner self. I felt at once humbled and grateful. Eighty is on the downward slope. The deference accorded a long life is one thing, but knowing things really have worked out well. far better than I could ever have imagined, is awesome. All is surely part of me, but far beyond my capacity to put in place all by myself.