I remember looking forwards to the year 2000 a while before Prince’s 1999 came out, and thinking how far away it was, no idea I would celebrate it with a wife and 9 and 8 year-old daughters.
Now I think,
how long ago it was.
I look at how things just keep happening, according to this insistent linear time, and wonder: how am I going to, how can any of us, hand on what passes for wisdom to our children and grandchildren so they make better mistakes than I did? It is probably impossible,
and possibly a bad mistake to try.
So I am listing some things anyway:
I thought I had kind of come to some deal with death as it became non-scary back when I nearly died in 1983 and I found myself fearless for a while afterwards, and it’s true that my own death doesn’t feel scary, still just an unwanted inevitability.
The death thing is something that just keeps knocking on your back door – death of a wife, death of parents, death of all uncles and aunts, favourite or dirty, death of best friends, death of a friendship, death of democracy,
and of faith…
Watching the Crown, the scene with Graham Sutherland exploring Churchill’s darkest paintings and his own, their sharing of the deep pain of the death of a child, and I am so thankful that I have not had to suffer that, and genuinely sad for those who have.
So the death thing is not banished by modern health care and sharper rituals, just as we intellectually accept we cannot escape it, its spread cannot escape your notice if you have lived any kind of decent human life. People always say, “It’s pain we are scared of, not death”
– yes, maybe,
and that includes the pain of loss, something your own death will inflict on others, but others’ deaths inflict on you, like deep stab wounds.
A wise doctor, at the Hospice where I volunteered, told a young man dying of AIDS that if we could look forwards to birth in the way that we look forwards to death, then we should be really terrified! – oxygen depletion, pregnancy traumas, strangulation, immense pressure – so many things that can be destructive or damaging…
whereas with death, nothing can go wrong.
The pain thing is a harder grind to come to terms with, and the realisation that when older people answer the question, “How are you?” with the answer, “doing fine, thanks”, they generally mean, “no terminal diagnosis yet”, and not, “I’m well and free from pain”.
All those people who look fine and well walking the streets who are over 60, they probably have pains on a daily or weekly basis. Arthritis, injuries, back pain, hips, knees, gastric, teeth, (Hey kids, watch out for those teeth! gum disease is a killer) and those are just the physical hurts… Like a to do list, it can get added to faster than the painful burdens get disappeared.
Playing Rugby may be long ago off the agenda, but I was sad to lose cricket this year, aches and pains making the run up to bowl, and catching the ball almost an impossibility.
An important note: Keep moving.
All the research shows that as soon as you cease taking a walk of a minimum of 400 metres a day, you are on the slippery slope, decline and then loss of mobility and health which typically leads to a care home as per my mother in law (shudder).
So with all these “not very nice” aspects of ageing, what are the life hacks and lessons that can make it, not just bearable – so you don’t book a short stay in Switzerland – but enjoyable?
First thing I would say, from my own experience, which involves a fair degree of so called luck as well as personal development – is sex.
Being in love with a woman who loves me, since the age of 49 has led to more joy in bed than I ever believed possible. You do have to use your brain and get past the otherwise welcome loss of animalistic action and reaction, to become as free minded and playful as a child between the sheets, but wisdom can create the most wonderful relaxed and glorious unions.
The vanity, performance anxiety, goal orientation, the urgency, can all be melted away, leaving a better set of experiences than a thousand youthful fucks.
A divorce and then death of the woman you married as a partner for life need not mean repeating the same mistakes again and again, but lessons actually learned and ultimately, not game over, as so heavily telegraphed, instead, a new level of joy in living.
Second, there’s this surprising thing about not just meeting and marrying someone else the same age as me, but how fancying people from a distance (or appreciating beauty from wherever) is, for me, age appropriate.
I find I am not overly excited by youthful good looks, much more fascinated and drawn to the beauty of experience. I like how Jane Fonda looks now, I see greater beauty in the smile lines and body language that speaks of the breadth of a big life lived, and would not be drawn to her like I was as a teenager to the sexy naked poster I purchased for my bedroom door.
This does not appear to be the case for a large number of middle/later aged men, who seem to want to relive their own youth and are drawn to the blank canvas beauty of someone whose conversation they could not really be interested in. To me, these are the sad men, not the lucky ones.
Thirdly, IF, (and it’s an if that all need to specialise in eliminating), you have managed to learn how to earn just enough and live within your means, age can give you a welcome reduction in the previous worship of ambition and material hoarding. I find I now have a natural inclination to shed possessions and not collect them. I no longer seek more of what I already have. This liberation does not mean I do not seek adventure and a degree of risk, but that I am much better at judging what risks to take and where adventures are likely to be most rewarding. Having had a redundancy accompanied by a massively traumatic injustice, this is a crucial skill to avoid a descent into anger and despair.
I have projects, I have some goals, there are joyous surprises, and painful blows, from the younger generation’s woes to the pains in my toes.
And then there is the horrible awakening, that started at around the age of 45 I think, that all those in charge of running the country are no brighter or wiser than I am, (I used to think it was just a few),
that is a terrifying thing to get used to, when you know the many weaknesses and levels of ignorance that make you completely unqualified to do that job.
A decade ago today, my dad had had a lovely day in the garden, a bonfire, weeding his new (and ridiculously optimistic) asparagus bed, an evening with his favourite TV show, and late evening, there he stood at the bottom of the cottage stairs, with the slight headache for which Mum had told him to take some tablets a full hour earlier.
“I think I can make it to the top”,
was what she heard from the bathroom.
Famous last words.
April 4th, then 11th 2019 – Mum made it downstairs, to join him again
Happy arrival and departure days, Dad.
April 11th 1923 -10th/12th October 2009
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