With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come

Ahh, Age, I suppose you’re here at last. I’m not exactly sure what that means, though; when does a comment like ‘aged’ apply to anybody? Or ‘old’, or even ‘ancient’…? ‘Out of date’, okay, I can grasp that concept -I’ve struggled for years to keep up with the world around me- but surely even the young struggle with that. Everything changes; if it didn’t, we’d be dead, or perhaps think we were…

Still, something inside tells me I’m finally nearing that finishing line we all aim for from the time we were children and beholden to adults and careful around those who were bigger than us. It seemed a worthy goal at the time: to be an adult and be able to control things. Little did I know that what adults sought to control was often beyond even their reach. Of course, the thought did occur to me that perhaps I might have skipped that phase of Life; I was never truly able to identify as an adult. Maybe I simply never felt I controlled enough to qualify; maybe I never grew big enough to feel much power. I have, however, been able to amass an ample number of years and that should count for something.

Although my limbs are not weighed down with all the leaves I used to wear, enough have remained sufficiently loyal to see me through -even if brightly coloured and largely decorative. But, they will do for my purposes; I, too, am loyal and will be sorry to see them fall. Of course, maybe they are the badges of a life lived right to the finish line: medals I should be proud to wear.

The question must be asked, though: where are we, the aged, supposed to go from here? Once the race is over, is there not another one to try? Is Age the end -or simply the start of another beginning? Asking the Young is unlikely to furnish many answers; they have never crossed the finish line; they have never felt the weight of years egging them to carry even more.

The famous French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, as she herself aged, once observed ‘our ageing is a situation that exists outside of us. We are old for others because there is a disconnect between how we feel inwardly and the ungraspable, judgmental gazes of other people.’[i] She argues that ‘ageing isn’t only a biological decline: society crushes ageing bodies through ageist discrimination.’ And yet, ‘elderhood also has the potential to bring us closer to authenticity than at any other stage of life.’ Authentic by being the agents of our choices, even if we are judged ‘old’ by others. And yet, she still feels the need to ask rhetorically, ‘Can I have become a different being while I still remain myself?’ Can I be authentic if others see me as somebody other than I see myself, in other words? Do they get to choose, or do I…?

Life is not just a race to Age but, rather, to a ‘fullness of being’. It brings with it experience, wisdom and also deeper self-understanding. Because people are closer to the end of their becoming, elderhood is the stage where we find ourselves closest to fulfilment.[ii] I like that.

An old friend I hadn’t heard from in years phoned me recently. I didn’t recognize her voice at first -things change with time and absence, I suppose- but then again it was a voice I had never anticipated hearing again. We had been close once, and then, finally, not at all. I imagine it was the difference in our careers: hers was well-established; mine was, well, still evolving let us say. I had always looked upon her as my mentor; she was at least ten years older than me, and infinitely more mature -or perhaps more worldly would describe it better. At any rate, even when my job required that I move to a different city, I’d always thought we’d parted as friends and promised to stay in touch -but we didn’t… That’s why I was so surprised to finally hear from her again.

The voice didn’t identify itself at first, no doubt waiting to find out if I still recognized it. Finally, it gave up, with my embarrassed starts and stops signalling my confusion. “It’s Miriam,” she said, and chuckled hoarsely, sounding like she had just exhaled a lungful of smoke.

The Miriam I remembered had never smoked, and was so opposed to smoking would usually ask people not to smoke anywhere near her. I was about to mention this when she anticipated my surprise. “Yes, G, I sold my soul a few years ago…” I heard her inhale and then cough this time. “I figured what the hell; I’m going to die anyway, so why not take on a few bad habits.”

Once again, I couldn’t think of anything to reply -me, who in the old days would have thrown a quick riposte at her with no qualms.

She sensed the difference, I think, and hesitated a moment before unleashing a bout of stifled coughing that she obviously tried to muffle with her arm or something. “And you can back off, G. I know what you’re thinking…”

I wasn’t really sure what I was thinking so I didn’t say anything.

I heard her sigh into the phone and take a deep, stertorous breath. “You’re hoping you won’t sound like me in a few years, aren’t you? That things won’t deteriorate as soon as you retire.” She took a deep croaking breath and coughed with the effort. “Or, more probably, that at the very least, you won’t take up smoking to fill the void.” She was silent for a moment. “You know, sometimes, working is all you have… People don’t look at you with pity -like ‘Poor thing, what does she do with herself nowadays? There used to be a purpose for her life…’ The other day, in fact, a younger woman I recognized passed me on the sidewalk. She smiled and looked at me strangely, then I thought I heard her whisper to her friend that I must already be living in my afterlife…”

Miriam’s words were beginning to slur, but perhaps she was simply tired. “Where are you calling from, Mir?” I didn’t recognize the area code on my caller ID. “Do you want to get together for lunch, or a drink…?”

“Old people probably shouldn’t drink… Do you remember saying that to me when my older sister was in the hospital, G?” She was silent for a moment, obviously trapped in a memory that she found painful.

I did remember, actually. Yvonne’s falling down the stairs was what led to her diagnosis of dementia and eventual physical and mental decline.

“Yvonne is where I’m headed, G… I can feel my memories… changing.”

I didn’t know what to say to that; the Miriam I remembered had always been so vivacious and alive; she had always seen the brighter side of life. I felt like I was talking to a shadow now. In fairness to her, though, right from the start she had always warned me not to hitch my horse to an old wagon like hers.

“We used to talk about this…” She paused to take a deep breath, or a deep drag, I could no longer tell. “In ten years I’ll be old, I used to say. And you’ll be forced to pull an old cart with broken wheels and boards that rattle and no longer stay in place.” She stopped to clear her throat. I think she was crying.

“I’d slow you down,” she finally added, “and I couldn’t face that.”

I thought about that for a moment, “Is that why you never returned my calls, Mir…?”

She sighed a jagged breath into the phone. “I was giving you a chance, G.” There was silence for a second or so; she collected herself, and I could tell she was about to end the phone call. “I don’t think even you could pull me now…”, she added as an afterthought

“But I was willing to try, Mir. You never gave me a chance, to try… We always used to laugh together, and…”

“G,” she started, and then stopped, mid-thought. “When Age is in, the Wit is out…”

It was my turn to sigh; she was right and I could feel it. But it was Time and not Age that separated us now…


[i] https://psyche.co/ideas/simone-de-beauvoir-recommends-we-fight-for-ourselves-as-we-age

[ii] Ibid.

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