Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A FEW THOUGHTS ABOUT AGING

"Green grass continues to grow beside an old oak."
Yesterday, during a funeral service, I experienced feelings of mortality and began to count up the number of funerals I’ve attended lately, a large count of which is supposed to indicate that your friends are aging and dying…and your demise is not far off. When I’m faced with so many funerals and with various aches and pains in my body and subsequent anxiety about physical well-being, I attempt to accelerate practices of good nutrition, exercise, meditation, engagement with others, religious activity, and, lately I drink 64 ounces of water daily because this practice is touted as a treatment for high blood pressure. Then there are the salubrious effects of polyphenols in red grapes or red wine… increased social life… community service…crossword puzzles, etc. Yet, I sometimes can’t help feeling like the poet Donald Hall who recently wrote in a New Yorker essay: “I feel the circles grow smaller, and old age is a ceremony of losses…”

The fact is that I’m part of the “middle old” (ages 75-84) and that right now my actual age doesn’t really correlate with my functional age. Although I’m supposed to have developed what is termed “neuron loss,” I don’t see or feel this creeping loss, and I also experience “negative affect” less frequently than a few of my peers. Besides, I do have that pink bicycle mentioned in an earlier blog on which I can pedal through some gray days.

I’ve read a lot on the subject of aging, and this morning, I thought about writing a “preachy” essay about living as a “middle old,” but that thought was followed by the realization that most people my age intuitively know what they’re supposed to be doing during this last part of their lives. So I’ll just relay a message from a very old edition of Anglican Digest, written on yellowing paper and posted on my refrigerator: “The Rule Is: 1) Pray every day. 2) Love those you live with. 3) Do what needs to be done. 4) Leave the results up to God.”

A less-positive message appears in a poem I wrote several weeks ago:

“RACING AGAINST AGE

The doors are closed
while winter walks the street,

bitter wind blustering
against a virago on a bicycle,

legs pedaling in a storm,
the old dog yipping at her heels.

At home, the soup is unmade,
a drunk sun has fallen in the alley behind,

breath whistling in his yellow breast.

There are tales of caution
in the dry grass, skittering leaves,

the sedulous forms of winter
walking the street

carping at the cyclist:
be afraid of God, there is no time.

Pressing the bell on cold handle bars,
she rounds the last curve,

behind her, a blank wall
away from which she steers,

pedaling faster toward an abandoned house
where the clocks need winding,

where a mute tree,
twisted by the wind,

grows through the kitchen floor,
welcoming the light in a narrow space.”

And perhaps this poem doesn’t illustrate the fact that I have less “negative affect” than some of my peers! However, I’m heartened by this extravagant sea of green grass beyond my window that continues to grow beside an old oak…
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