Monday, March 19, 2018

THE ROSEBUD THEORY

There are so many jokes in the standard repertoire about aging that it would be impossible to gather them all.  I'm so old I have stopped buying green bananas.  Anon.  I'm so old my insurance company sends me half a calendar. R Dangerfield.   I'm so old that the sight of flowers frighten me. G Burns.  I'm so old that when I order a 3 minute egg they want the money up front.  G Burns.  I'm so old the candles cost more than the cake.  B Hope.  This one by Steven Wright stops me cold: How young can you die of old age?

Of course, none of the above is original with me.  Not even growing old.  It just feels unique.  It's one of those things, that if you do it (grow old, I'm talking) you feel alone.  I don't care if the room is full of cheering friends, which, of course, is nice, but even such an outpouring cannot remove the footprint of time planted squarely in the middle of your back.

These things don't occupy your mind  too much until you pass 50, or for sure  60 for most of you.  I say all this from a lofty perch in the midst of my 80s.  That's when it gets serious.  Friends and family begin dying off much too quickly for comfort.  Children you once knew or haven't seen in a while are now voting adults if not parents as well.  Then one day you realize you are *thinking* about it all the time - well, a lot of the time.

A while ago I was commiserating with CA about the recent demise of my main computing machine.  It was only 4 years old.  What to do - what to do.

Now, here is how an Octogenarian processes such a situation.  OK.  Should I go ahead and replace the laptop with the present version or wait for the inevitable upgrade at some unknown time in the future?  I'd like the new model, but will it arrive in time?  That wasn't a joke.  I'm dead serious.  Whoops!

There comes a time in life when the idea of delayed gratification is  a kind of dark joke.

How about this from the Song of Solomon:  "Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither".  I kind of like that.  The Rosebud Theory of big ticket purchases in old age.  It has a certain charm, don't you think?

I've always liked the way Robert Herrick brought it together:

     Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
     Old time is still a-flying;
     And this same flower that smiles today
     Tomorrow will be dying.

A version of this was posted in January 2015.  It just felt right today.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

NATURE WILL HAVE HER WAY

Nature will have her way.
She thinks in terms of tens of thousands
while we piddle along with thirty days
hath September. . .
Fifty to a hundred years makes a tree
then come four men with chainsaws.
They were damaged goods
from the weight of ice and snow.
A glimpse ten thousand years hence
would likely be a revelation on this little
three acres with a ledge overhead.
I wonder how that can be arranged?
Ten thousand years ago is "dust in the wind"
while hence - who knows - an iPhone movie
proving we lived and died along with 
those lovely pine trees, which, of course
were doomed from the start.
Doomed from the start  - Interesting.
So we travel along singing our song,
It's important to sing our song.


THE OTHER

We scrambled over rocks that slanted to the sea,
to find the cave we saw from the boat.  She had
been there before, this was my first time -
I carefully chose my steps.  I wondered who was first.
Are there any signs that some 'Other' might have left?
And how long ago and who - what difference does it make?
None, of course.  We were there.  We are there.

But there it is - a small cairn in a rock cleft.
Stones like small marbles stacked, neat, telling - the 'other'.
So it's not a private niche, a solitary find, a personal shrine.
I wondered if there were such things except in our inward focused minds.
Our native need to own, to possess.  'This is my place'.
Then it happened - the ceremonial fire, smoke, the drum
and the 'knowing' that we are the 'Other'.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

THE END IS NEAR

Growing old has one major drawback –
the nearness of death, closer and closer
the end comes. I have friends who say,
'i don't think about it'. They lie.
I have friends who have died. They know,
I stroll among gravestones and listen.
The din of voices is almost deafening.
I have found that bending low and
putting my ear to the stone sometimes
drowns out all but that one who long ago
laid down – I wonder how and why.
The metaphor smothers us in truth –
all living things die. The story goes
that even God died, but he had a key.
Not fair. The end is the end is what I think,
But I love surprises as much as anybody.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

HARD WORDS TO HEAR

She said, “You may never see him again.”

It’s like this: We had this trip planned to visit an old high school buddy and I fell down the stairs. Trip canceled, or at best, postponed. As it turns out we missed seeing them at all this year. As it turns out #2, they may not be coming back to their retreat in Pennsylvania. CA then said those words: “You may never see them again”.

This is not fortune cookie stuff. It’s real life. As it turns out, we pass many doorways that we shall never open again - - all the time. That’s the way it is.

But this is a guy I palled around with in the 1940s. Do the numbers. That’s a while ago and there is a lot of that in-between history we did not share. You know how it usually goes. High school graduation scatters people like a whirlwind. Many times this commencement scattering is permanent and irrevocable. I went into a marriage and then into an educational journey no one would have expected and he went into the Air Force and flew nuclear armed bombers for twenty years, and after that had a successful business career.

Then late one night about ten years ago I got this phone call and I knew immediately who it was even after all those years of not being in touch. That voice - you just can’t make that up. To cut to the chase, we began seeing each other almost every year since. Sometimes here in Maine and sometimes in Pennsylvania at their family retreat.

As time moves on and without much fanfare, we both find that we are in our mid-eighties and suffering from multiple age related problems, a mutual dislike for air travel and almost 3000 road miles between us. Odds are that we are not going to see much of each other from now on.

But, isn’t that the way it is? Several of my closest and dearest friends have died tragically or of natural causes before their “normal” times. Isn’t that the way it is? Why should we think there is some sort of special roll for us to play in this drama? What’s special about you or me that we should be spared the usual terminal scenario of the human condition. Well, I’m sure you don’t pander to such foolishness.

I say there is an upside to all this and this is it: get all the hugs and kisses you can while you can. Nurture your friendships and keep them well. Write letters, send emails, make phone calls, send cards and gifts. Do the maintenance. The best gift life ever gave to you was a friend - no matter how far away they are.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

MID WEEK RUMINATIONS

For some reason, there is a lot on my mind tonight.

Not much of it is connected, but it is, nevertheless, on my mind.

I had a conversation with an old high school buddy this afternoon. He is a couple of years older than I am and he is feeling his age even more than I am - and that’s a lot.

Every couple of years or so, we would meet up with him at a place he had in the Pennsylvania woods and enjoy possibly one of the most wonderful cocktail venues on the planet. Yet, as things go, even that runs it’s course. He declares that this was his last year. It’s just getting too hard to make the drive. Over 2000 miles. That’s a lot for even a healthy younger man.

He was talking about needing a week to recover from the drive back to Arizona. What’s hard to understand about that? There’s a time to cut your options and it seems that this is the time. It’s no fun compiling a list of the things you can no longer do.

I realized that he was talking about me. You can tell when someone is connecting to you at an intimate level. You say things like: “I could have said that”.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A LOAD TOO HEAVY

It goes without saying - but we say it anyway: the longer you carry a load the heavier it gets. Big revelation, huh?

I think that’s the best definition I can come up with for aging. One day, you just won’t be able to pick it up and that will be the end of the road. You probably get tired of me saying this but it’s the truest of truisms. CS Lewis once said that when the ability goes so does the desire. One day you come to the place that you can’t go on and voila - you don’t want to go on. I’ll be sure to let you know if that works out. If you are sound of mind, you’ll find it out for yourself.

I’ll not forget that time that Tinkie, J-Boy, Tyrus and I were finishing off a couple of bottles of Delaware Punch and Tinkie proposed that he could hold a Delaware punch bottle out at arms length longer than any of us. Guess what? He could. I think he had been practicing. I gave it a try, While I’m talking, why don’t you try. It ain’t easy. One minute. Two minutes. Three. Five? Feel it yet? After a while your arms just get lower and lower. Nothing you can do about it. You still want to but that doesn’t seem to count anymore. I guess practice would help but how would you know?

Growing older is sort of like that, but without the Delaware Punch bottles. As time goes on you just can’t do some things you always did without thinking.

This week on Monhegan Island is, for me, a Delaware Punch bottle event. The trails that crisscross an circle this little paradise are in places very rocky and steep. Once I could hop from rock to rock with ease and sureness of foot. A few years ago I began using one of those adjustable hiking sticks with a carbide tip that will stick on a rock like a third leg. This week I have been experimenting with a second stick and it truly helps going down steep rocky pitches.  I's the balance.  It's just not there anymore.  And all it takes is one little misstep - additional walking sticks notwithstanding.

It’s all about accommodation. The happiest old people I have ever known are those who were smart enough to adjust to their diminishing abilities. Growing old is not an option, if one is lucky. Not being able to hold that Delaware Punch bottle out at arm’s length as long as you once could is one of the more normal things you will ever run into. There is no rule that says you have to be able to keep up with people twenty or thirty years younger than you. Do I hear, “Act your age?”

This could be our last week on this wonderful piece of paradise. I’ve held this bottle out about as long as I am able to. Doing many of the things that bring us back year after year have now become too dangerous to do. There are easier trails. I know that, but I am soon to be 85 and hopefully counting. A trip and a fall could be disastrous. I recently had such a fall in my home and it took me a month to recover. It was very painful but I didn’t break anything. I was very lucky - that time.

I do still have the desire. And there is a lot of walking I can still do. That I will do. Incidentally, I am comfortable giving up the Delaware Punch bottle test for manliness. It never proved anything anyway.