Tuesday, January 13, 2015

On Turning Sixty-seven.

One of the things about becoming older is that it occurs to you that you'll be dying sooner. You think about it less when you turn, say, 35 instead of 55, but still. The thought whispers in your mind, the volume increasing the older you get.

When you turn sixteen, you're pretty glad, because now you can get a driver's license. When you turn 18, you're kind of happy, because now you can vote (even though you won't, because you think there's nobody to vote for--but at least it's your option, and not the law's). When you turn 21, you can now drink legally, which turns out not to be that big of a deal.

When you turn 30, it's kind of cool, because you think that now, you really are an adult and everyone will start taking you seriously. When your parents say something you just did was great, you'll at least suspect they aren't just saying it because you're their kid and everything you do is cool. You start thinking of older people in authority as possible contemporaries and not grownups.

C'est moi? Non!
Hit forty, and you'll think to yourself, "I'm not either having a mid-life crisis" as you hit the gym and buy cooler-looking jeans. Sashay into your fifties, and you know what? It's good. It's all good. In my experience, people are happiest in their fifties, especially women. The only part that sucks  is receiving AARP flyers in the mail, which you throw away in disgust.

At each stage, though, you know that you're older than you were, and the higher you climb, the more you think about the Grim Reaper lurking somewhere just out of view. Maybe it's the "u-h-h" as you get up off the floor, preceded by your not wanting to have contorted yourself onto the floor in the first place. Maybe it's that extra split-second it takes to pull up a word like "vicarious." Maybe it's noticing that you don't hear the turn signaler you left on. Maybe it's leaving the AARP flyers out for another look.

Whatever. The pissoff comes not just from society at large, which demonizes old age through passive dismissiveness, but from your peers. Expressions such as " he's 60 years young" or "you're only as old as you think" make me puke. So do men who dye their hair without realizing that orange actually isn't the new black, or the Joan Rivers-type women prancing around who remind you of a Madame Tussaud (as in wax museum) failure.

We Baby Boomers have been taught that old age is a medical condition that can be treated with medical science. If that's the case, the Affordable Care Act didn't work. Thanks, Obama.

But face the prospect of your seventh decade, and it all takes on a new urgency. Truckin' through life has always been a balance between possibilities on the one hand, and lasts on the other. The possibilities include, say, visiting that elf-like village off a fiord in Iceland or surfing in Malta. The lasts are, pretty much, "that's the last time I'm gonna do that," the "that" being, say, laughing at jokes that aren't funny, going out on New Years Eve, volunteering to do the cleanup for the office holiday party, or ordering a Moscow Mule and pretending to like it.
Is that you god? It's me, Margaret

For some time now, I've been contemplating the lasts. My dog, for example, is ten and has survived cancer. The average life span for her breed is 10-12 years. Will she be my last dog? If she buys the farm and I get another spaniel, will the new dog be my last? Or, a car. One of ours is pushing 16 and the other is almost eight. In our Rocky Mountain world, they both kind of cough their way up the grade, with my sincerest empathy. Will the replacement car be the last car we ever buy, and what will it feel like when sign and date the papers, knowing it's the last time we do that?

I look about our house, built in the 1970s. Two stories, pretty much a pleasant, soothing house despite its rusting sewer line and leaky windows. Assuming the best of circumstances, we won't be able to keep up with it in five, ten, fifteen years or whatever. Then what? Is this our last house, or will the one we move into after this one be our last?

You read articles, such as this one on dying at 75, and it's not so much an ethical debate as it is an interesting proposition. When you're 57, say, 75 is still a relatively long way off, as in, deniable to a degree. It's not when you're 67.

Let me interject, here, that I'm not whining. Actually, I find the whole caper of contemplating lasts rather interesting. I had a friend, a paleontologist, who discovered an anomaly in the half life of a particle in a grain of sand with an electron microscope. He was 86. "A puzzle!" he exclaimed with unbridled excitement. That's kind of how it works. Nothing validates life as much as a puzzle, and while it can lead to glowering moods, it's no more depressing than many other situations and is actually fun at times. Death, be not proud, no?

No, the depressing part is going to the gym and passing a room full of  old people ("seniors" is likewise irritating in its veiled denial of decrepitude) listlessly raising an arm or foot in time to the "Beer Barrel Polka," and swearing that will never be me. The depressing part is watching performers of my favorite music groups creaking across the stage and warbling off-key through public television fundraisers. The depressing part is people calling me "Mister" when they're not creditors. The depressing part is a  grocery store clerk asking for my I.D. before giving me my senior discount. The really depressing part is being eligible for a senior discount in the first place.

So it goes.

The truly interesting part, though, is where are we--i.e., moi--going with this? You reach a time in your life when you want your existence to have counted for something, so issues eschatological take on a new urgency. "You need something for them to put in your obituary," my father used to say. True, that, except obits in 2015 seem to be more infomercial than news item. I can still join the Peace Corps or freelance for Charlie Hebdo, I suppose. The Denver nonprofits to whom I've offered volunteer work have filed my contact info just in case, and excuse me if I've heard that before. But that's their problem more than it is mine, and if I didn't believe that, I wouldn't believe.

I imagine I'll slash and burn my way through the next year, even the next decade, much as I've always done--ineffectually at times, capably at others. If you didn't truly believe that, how could you go on? I refuse to do Paleo, Crossfit, or vegan Metamucil, but I imagine I'll do acceptably well, since science supports the relative value of good bourbon over bean sprouts. You can look it up.

And, truth be told, there's something to be said for planning your life with an obituary. The possibilities are almost endless.