Friday, February 4, 2011

Old is Almost a State of Mind

SAN DIEGO – Age is a relative thing whether it’s in the Southwest corner or back home in Lebanon.

This past week I turned 67. I am not sure why the event seemed so much more cataclysmic than 65 or 66, but “67” just sounds older.

Before the first line of W.B. Yeats’ famous poem, “Sailing to Byzantium” was unfortunately stolen by Hollywood and used as the title for the violent movie “No Country for Old Men,” the poem addressed aging.

I like the poem but had thought little of it in the past few years. I revisited a quote from the poem courtesy of National Public Radio last Thursday. The beginning of the second verse goes, “An aged man is but a paltry thing / A tattered coat upon a stick.” I can identify with that whether my coat is tattered or not and even though my stick is a pretty thick, bald stick.

The NPR program “All Things Considered,” discussed productivity of the aging, dwelling on creative folks. The discussion was generated by “Lastingness: the Art of Old Age” by Nicholas Delbanco. Delbanco’s book discusses late productivity, citing examples of artists Claude Monet and Georgia O’Keefe and the composer Giuseppe Verdi, among others. Yeats himself wrote up to his final days when he died in France at 74.
Consequently, I decided I was into lastingness.

* * *

When I told my father, half-way to 97, I felt old at 67, he laughed, “You’re not old yet.”

He’s right, of course. I am fortunate to be in good heath. I can do most things I have done all of my life, but I do them slower with a lot more creaks, crackles and grunts than there used to be. I also have found it takes me a lot longer to do anything.

For example, I used to rise and be out of the house in 15 minutes to play golf. I arrived at the course and immediately went to the first tee. Now it takes me an hour or more to wake up, stretch, take pills, and check to make sure I am taking all that I need. Once at the course, I must stretch again, have a cup of coffee, hit a small bucket of range balls, practice chipping and putting before teeing off. It takes almost a full work day to golf.

* * *

For those of us who grew up in Lebanon from the mid-1940s to the early 1960s, I am the second oldest of my high school class (LHS and CHMA). This doesn’t seem quite fair as Gayle Marks Bryne, the only person older from the 1962 class remains lovely and young looking.

So I’m going for “lastingness.”

I am even working on relating to the young. My youngest daughter Sarah and I will soon attend a San Diego State basketball game. The Aztecs have the longest winning streak in the country (20) and are ranked number six in the country. Sarah became interested in college basketball when I took her and her mother to a Vandy game two years ago when we were home for Christmas.

Sarah is buying a guest ticket, and we will sit in the student section. I plan on keeping my shirt on, not painting my body or face, and wearing my ear plugs. I don’t intend to act that young.

* * *

I seem to think about this growing old thing more than most. I am not sure why I am so wrapped up about aging. In fact, I find as I get older, I am less sure about a lot of things.

So I’m going for “lastingness.” And why not?

On my birthday, I received several cards and a number of emails wishing me well. I finagled two dinners and a golf game out of the occasion. Sarah made her grandmother’s boiled custard to celebrate the day.

On my birthday eve, I received a phone call from my parents who sang “Happy Birthday” to me. The next morning, my computer displayed an internet video of my grandson, courtesy of my older daughter Blythe, singing that song to me. Neither version was exactly on key.

But they were the two sweetest songs I have heard in a long, long time.
Right then, I decided there are a lot of good things about lastingness.

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