Old age is nipping at my heels, keeping pace with me on the biking route and looking at me from the mirror. I am on the gentle, downward slope towards being old which is a reality almost impossible to grasp as I do not feel old nor identify with any of the behaviors associated with being old, such as forgetfulness. Yet I observe with some clinical objectivity that my mental computer is a little slower. Words and names can be elusive until they show up an hour later, having missed the conversation. My brain seems to have misfiled a word that can mean “transient” or “ephemeral” and I have been searching for it for two days now. Until it shows up I am still thankful to have these two words in reserve. I have already used “elusive”.
I live on a small hill above one of the most active retirement communities outside of Tucson. I drive and bike through here several times a week. The place is constantly moving with runners, walkers, swimmers, tennis and pickle ball players, golfers and other cyclists. The average age is probably late 60’s or early 70’s and it is quite obvious that age is a process to be resisted and stalled with activity as well as nips and tucks, good clothes and the latest model of Porsche, Corvette or Harley. Yet daily I see the very, very old, toddling down a driveway to poke at a plant or pick up the newspaper. Some use walkers, many require outside help. I have watched a 95 year old woman total her car and an old man in sweats warn the young Walgreens clerk he is “going to be upset” because his prescription isn’t ready. Every year several of the old residents die. Their homes are cleared out by relatives and put on the market.
I began to think about the very old, spurred on by the ones I see here as well as a photograph in a newspaper of a man most likely well past the century mark. I think about the things I enjoy every day and the outside world that I am still very much interested in. I think about the feelings associated with the loss of love and that desire and passion most likely are gone forever for the very old even if they still have their partner. I wonder what memories they retain and what are most significant for them. And I wonder what is lost to them in the physical world that they miss the most.
These questions led to my poem “One Hundred Years and Counting”. I kept the image of the centenarian in front of me as I wrote it, imagining what his life might have been like and what his thoughts are now. This is the third stanza:
If asked what life has taught you
you might say no one is really prepared
for that first love that bites you and holds on
or the late and unexpected infant
That you found you are capable of betrayal
and your wife turned away from forgiveness.
Friends were friends until their time came.
Your children, whom you can’t name, are gone.
These people in your room are like family –
and yet you miss love and the smell of rain.