Saturday, January 29, 2011

The inevitable ...

... Nobody Gets Out of Here Alive. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

"There is about as much proof of the wisdom of old age as there is of the medical efficacy of holy water from Lourdes," Ms. Jacoby writes. And: "The old-age wisdom canon is essentially a defense against the knowledge of the terrible fates that lies ahead for many of us before we actually die." At this point, in the margin of my copy of "Never Say Die," I scribbled, "Keep the laughs coming, kid."

I spent the greater part of last year coming to terms with the fact that I am no longer young. When you're a kid, you can't wait to grow up, but you take heart from knowing that, barring some misfortune, you will. When you get old, you have to adjust to the realization that a lot of things are no longer in the realm of possibility. Case in point: That pretty young woman over there is never going to be smitten with you.
But I find I have somehow grown comfortable with life's diminuendo. I'm not looking to die anytime soon, but I am still interested in seeing what happens next, even though I am perfectly aware that there are, as it were, fewer and fewer pages left in the book. But I have, I think, gotten over the shock that John Hall Wheelock describes in his poem "The Part Called Age":

... imperceptibly
Almost as if in the winking of an eye,
The thing happened: waking from the long turmoil
And trance of youth, suddenly you found it there --
Not knowing what had become of the years in between,
You found yourself, as now he found himself,
An aged man pacing his father's acres,
Remembering how his father had said, "Someday,
When you are older, perhaps you will understand."
Was it not all exactly as foretold
Long since? Had it not happened all over again?
He had come to the passage in the old legend so many
Before him had listened to through the centuries --
But, oh, the difference, for now it was told to him,
And it wasn't believable!


  1. Actually, since I almost died, literally, last summer, my perspective on this topic has utterly changed. So, no offense, and I actually don't buy any of this. LOL Life is both incredibly precious and incredibly beautiful. It's as the Japanese say: the cheery blossom is beautiful BECAUSE it is ephemeral.

  2. Ah, but you're younger than I, Art. Oddly, some 20 years ago, I came close to (literally) breaking my neck in a fall. No, my life didn't pass before my eyes, but I experienced the event, which probably took only a second, in slow motion, and just before I collided with the planet, everything was filled with the brightest, most intensely yellow light I have ever seen. But what was strangest of all was that I knew that something next was going to happen and I was starting to prepare myself for that, when I hit ground and rolled safely away from whatever encounter had been on the agenda. That sense of the reality of something next has never left me. But I certainly agree that life in incredibly precious and incredibly beautiful, and I certainly hope I will be permitted to stick around for a while. On the other hand, learning to live with yourself as an old person, rather than desperately trying to cling to a youth that is gone forever, is a good idea.

  3. That's a great story, Frank. Something sublime and mysterious.

    I do agree, I should have said, with your thoughts about learning to live with yourself as an old person. My take on that, though, is that it's learning to live with yourself as a NEW person—that is, a person you've become, who is new to you, which you are still exploring. You know? It's a discovery process as much as an accommodation process.

    I'm still figuring out who I am now, after having a near-death experience (as it were). And later this year I'm to have surgery that is intended to resolve the chronic illness that brought me to this brink, this past year. That promises to be another life-changing event, and I don't know who I will be, or become, after that, either.

    I was reading one of my favorite poets last night, Octavio Paz, and I realized that he had written two or three books in the months following a major surgery he had had. One of them was "In Light of India," which is a really great book. I hope I am given even a tiny percentage of the chance to be so creative, during my own expected convalescence.