“Old age is the most unexpected of all things that can happen to a man“
― Leon Trotsky
“Die young, stay pretty.”
— Debby Harry
Loss comes with the package in life. Getting old isn’t all bad — so far, at least, it beats the alternative — but it sure as hell isn’t all good either. These days I hurt in so many ways and places that never occurred to me in my youth, and now I must think twice before attempting anything physical out in the real world. I used to run up a ladder to the roof to clean the gutters with no hesitation, and although I still get the job done, I’m much more deliberate in how I go about doing so. My eyesight isn’t what it used to be. My hearing isn’t what it used to be. My balance isn’t what it used be.
Nothing’s like it used to be.
Whatever else Leon Trotsky said or did in life, he was right about old age sneaking up on you. One minute you’re thirty-nine and afraid that turning forty marks the Beginning of the End — and that fifty will be a full-on horror-show — then the next thing you know there’s a veritable bonfire of seventy flaming candles lighting up your birthday cake. Having reached the latter dismal milestone, “fifty” now sounds like the full blooming flower of youth.
The early years of life seem to crawl at a snail’s pace. When I was young, summer stretched on forever. The return to school in September always came too soon, of course, but June, July, and August felt endless in a very good way. Not anymore — now, a week passes in the blink of an eye, the calendar pages flip from month to month at dizzying pace, and a New Year is upon me before I’ve become fully accustomed to scrawling the old. 1984 was once an iconic date far off in the future, but now it’s more than thirty-five years past.
So yeah, I’m old.
The only truly good thing about all this is that I’m much more attuned to the world around me — the way the sun rises a little bit earlier and sets a little bit later every day as winter slides into spring, peaks in June, then gradually reverses as summer gives way to fall and winter. I notice the shape and texture of clouds, how the light changes, colors shift, shadows deepen, and the way the wild creatures all around react to these changes as each season morphs into the next. I see and appreciate these things more than ever.
The downside of all this — in addition to being oh-so-much closer to whatever age-related illness that will herald the knock of the Grim Reaper — is all the losses I’ve suffered along the way: people I knew who are now gone, because for all there is to see and do in life, it’s the people that leave an indelible mark … and when they’re gone, so is a part of us.
There’s no happy ending here, no reassuring pat on the back and “Hey, it’ll all work out,” because this road goes one-way only, and the destination six feet under. And that sucks.
I don’t know. Should I be lucky/unlucky enough to outlive friends and family, maybe I’ll be more than ready to join them in the embrace of eternity — to take the Big Sleep from which nobody awakens. Maybe.