“There was no horizon. I never thought I would lose the horizon along with everything else , but when you get old you realize whichever direction you choose to face, you find yourself confronted with a landscape filled up with loss.”
Cannon, Joanna. Three Things About Elsie: A Novel (Kindle Locations 75-76). Scribner. Kindle Edition.
A friend was recently criticized because her behavior was “age inappropriate.” She had no clue what that meant. And neither did I.
There are those who retreat at age 65 to their recliner and reruns of “Law and Order,” and those who run marathons at 80. Those who charge madly though life as if defying death, and others who monitor each morsel of food and clamber for the latest anti-aging treatment to avoid crossing its path. And then there are the motley rest of us who take reasonable care of ourselves and simply hope for the best.
I wasn’t expecting to grow old. It simply happened when I was busy living my life. Then one day I looked in the mirror expecting to see my familiar 45 year old self only to find the tired eyes of a wrinkled old woman staring back at me.
Of course I did know a few things about growing old. People complained that their friends all died. That didn’t seem so bad to me when I was 45 because I could always make new friends. But not now. No one can replace those friends who have walked though life with you, who know you and love you in spite of it all. As I write this, a dear friend is dying; a friend who cannot be replaced.
I heard old people complaining about their aches and pains; the time and money spent at doctors’ offices. But I took pretty good care of myself. That wouldn’t be a problem. Until it was.
They said they wished they had been better people, made better choices. I played by the rules; I made great decisions. Until viewed in hindsight.
I thought old people’s lives became small because they stubbornly refused to engage with the world. But now I wonder, did they quit interacting with the world because their lives became small?
When I grew old (assuming I did), I told myself, I would know what to do. The usual stereotypes wouldn’t apply to me.
In short, like most people, until I faced old age myself, I had little time for old people and even less understanding of them.
But inevitably, I too, found myself in a “landscape filled with loss”, and a life once expansive, now contracting. A scenario too frightening to contemplate at first. For a time it was easier to avoid the mirror, to keep a safe distance from friends who like me were old and getting older. But over time, the pretense just became exhausting. And ironically the more I quit pretending, the easier it all became.
All lives end. A truth I have finally owned, even embraced. And ironically it is this truth that provides the perspective I need to do the hard work of right living. Something I would have done well to have embraced at 45.
But I still don’t know how to be “age appropriate.” I don’t have a clue. I guess we work that out as we go along.