Sunday, March 21, 2010

On Growing Older ...

I wonder what this young man, atop the dune, was thinking? Perhaps he was remembering a pleasant evening the night before? He might have been reciting a poem or imagining the earlier life of the main character in Crazy Heart, now at Wellfleet Cinema? Or, maybe the boy was simply in awe of the landscape?

Yesterday Sven brought me an article by Jonathan Rauch in The Atlantic Monthly, Letting Go of My Father. I recommend it.

Mortality is not something one should necessarily think about on a beach, on the first day of spring, and yet there I was, walking LeCount Hollow, with mortality on my mind.

Sven is nine years older, although he doesn’t look his age, and will turn 73 this June. We are both in good health and yet our spring calendar is chock-a-block with appointments with this or that doctor or dentist. At dinner, Sven exclaimed, “Jesus! I feel like a walking pharmacy!”

Last month he lost a hearing aid so we need new ones in order to communicate. One of these days I, too, will need hearing aids. And, they are not inexpensive, around $2500 a piece. Two ears, so think twice that much money. Insurance does not pay for hearing aids. Do the math: $5000. Before I lose my hearing, I hope to have time to replace most of my crowns and get several dental implants. So, ears and teeth demand attention. What else?

The eyes. They require glasses. I always had great eyesight. That, too, is a thing of the past. What else? Energy level. People used to call me “the Energizer bunny,” but now my batteries are running low. What else?

Memory. Senior moments don’t happen to Sven, but his excellent memory has begun to deteriorate, although he is way ahead of most of us still when it comes to current events. Out of the blue, he will say, “Did you know, for the first time, Saudi Arabia is exporting more oil to China than to America …”

So, there we were, two “older” people, walking along in the sunshine, grateful for the beautiful day, and for the ability to exercise. The young tend to take these gifts for granted. I can remember when I thought a forty-year-old person was ancient. That Beatles’ song about aging makes us laugh now. You know the one: “When I get older losing my hair, many years from now, will you still be sending me a valentine, birthday greetings, bottle of wine? …”

Those years pass quickly. On the way up the dune, we met two thirty-something women speaking French. I initiated a conversation. One owns a summer home here and had come down for the Preservation Hall celebration. The other lives in Paris. We told them not to miss PB Boulangerie. They said they had just discovered it. We mentioned our green bed & breakfast. The one with the summer home said she uses Old King's Highway as a short-cut and knows our house. I thought about how different my life was when I was their age, when I was a young mother.

“We’ve known each other for 20 years,” I said to Sven. ‘Isn’t it strange to think that in 20 more, you’ll be 93?”

We proceeded along and, as we reached the parking lot, Sven exclaimed, “I don’t want you to have to care for me when I’m old.”

“That’s a bridge we will cross if we ever reach it,’ I replied, giving him a hug.

In the meantime, we both intend to enjoy life.

Do you ever think about growing old? Have you made plans for old age, and by that, I do not mean retirement? In your opinion, how old does one have to be to deserve the adjective “elderly”? As more Boomers age, do you think people at the end of life should be allowed to "check out" if they feel so inclined?