My late mother used to quote Robert Browning’s Rabbi Ben Ezra poem, particularly Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be…
Don’t you believe it!
Each passing day makes you one day older, and the best is usually what was behind you, not what is ahead of you. At least when you’re old that is!
I’m old. I’m, at 77, not yet in the dreaded category very old, but I have no illusions that the best is yet to be. Like all ancients I look forward and pray for smachot and good health, but as life interrupts my plans time and time again, I need to be realistic. And that’s depressing indeed.
I would never be like the couple in this week’s New York Times Style Section who were just married, she at 98 and he at 94. Those two codgers look eagerly forward and expect many years of togetherness and joy. And he told the readers that he never worries Does he have children? I ask. And won’t they even worry about each other? Good for him. That’s not me. My father did live his entire 98 years without worrying. I didn’t inherit those genes unfortunately. I feel, as a retired person, that my actual job is to worry.
From my vantage point there’s so much to worry about. This week was a real killer! All kinds of terrible stories.
It started with my cousin Dick. Today is his 80th birthday and the good news is he’s out of the ICU unit where he’s been, I hope, recovering from a major hemorrhagic stroke. The bad news is he’s good and sick and has been transformed from a brilliant officer in the United States Army (ret.) to a patient with some pretty severe limitations. He’s two years (plus one month) older than I but we hung out together as kids. I know he’s at the right age for these things to happen, and actually quite a bit older than his parents were when they died. But but but…..
A couple of days after I heard about Dick I got an email, the newest and most efficient way of transmitting news, good and terrible. This news was truly terrible My best friend from the sixth grade on wrote from Florida (to me here in Herzliya and to probably many others as well, via the sneaky bcc) that her husband, a guy I adored since the age of 14 or so when she first became his girlfriend, had suddenly stopped living. He wasn’t sick. Only dead. Truthfully no one knows the answer to the horrible question: is it better to languish and suffer or to just drop dead? No doubt we actually all know that the answer is the latter but the shock is powerful and haunting. It means that when we say We’ll see you soon, or Let’s go on a trip this winter, we’re really clueless. Shouldn’t we always add a God willing to such commitments? I am so very sad that this wonderful man has left us. Baruch dayan ha emet.
Then my very best friend in the not-so-green Garden State, New Jersey, a woman a bit older than I, who has suffered for years with metastatic colon cancer and its aftermath, abruptly had to have her gallbladder removed. This is a woman who has a pied a terre in Manhattan to allow her to see many shows each week. Ah how the tickets must be gathering dust! Happily she is recovering.
Then I heard that an adult child of another friend is terribly ill.
And another BFF (see how young I am!) is having extensive heart testing to rule out any number of dreads. So far so good there TG.
It was not a good week. But, here’s what my mind conjures. I didn’t say accepts. Bad weeks are where people my age are at. Not only are we getting old (not the euphemistic older) but our entire cohort is as well. And we may not accept it but nobody gets out of this life alive.
What I find most surprising is that, knowing I’m an oldster, I still agonize about politics. I look around, as I know many other geriatrics do, and constantly see history repeating itself. I hear the pontificating with the only difference being that when I was in high school and college I heard things on a 7 pm news report or on the car radio. Now I, and all of us, are subjected to torturous verbal editorials all day long, if we so choose. And, it seems that history has not been a truly great teacher. People haven’t learned and, for sure, the present government in the United States is setting remarkably low bars. They never learned anything and are functioning accordingly. But why should I care? It’s possible, but doubtful, that I personally will live to see World War 3.
Well, there are those kids that the 94-year-old chatan manages not to worry about. And their kids. And hopefully many more. Lots to worry about there.
I’d like it when 77 will be considered middle age, maybe the halfway point. Maybe 120 will be the retirement age, not the farfetched blessing we now spout so casually.
For me, recognizing my mortality isn’t easy. I still really think I’m young. And my lying mirror supports me all the way. I look 17! No kidding.
But, then, someone took some pictures of me this week when I was shvitzing in the Carmel Shuk with two of our granddaughters. Pictures don’t lie. But who was that overweight, overwrinkled, gray haired old woman?
What I meant to say is that pictures do lie! Of course they do!