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The View From Up Here

December 13, 2011

 I feel like I’ve turned a corner from which there is no turning back. I am starting to feel old. Not in any truly bad way, but I nevertheless seem to be losing my edge, or I’m helplessly watching it retreat like a Greenland glacier, with my penguins all running amok. 

This usually shows up when I realize I’ve forgotten yet another thing that I should have done. I drop out details I used to be able to proudly juggle like an 8-armed Krishna. Add to this my inability to sometimes see what’s right in front of me when I’m looking for something. The other day I went to meet Shelley in front of the Beacon, and anxiously scanned the crowd, finally noticing her only because she was waving at me (as if to say, hello?) right there in front of my face. 

Eventually I expect these senior moments to become senior months.

Moreover, when winter approaches I freeze into a stiff statue from about early December through mid March. I somehow manage to act normal on the outside, but inside I’m shivering and sitting in a constant shiva for my once-warm body.

Worse, I’m far more prone to irritability, especially when I’m running late. I sometimes snap at Shelley like a mad dog. She, bless her soul, is used to it, but I don’t like feeling and acting like a crabby old man. I fear that 20 or 25 years from now I’ll be the one they stick in the back of the Home and warn the new help about. “Oh, that’s ole Charley. He can be a pain in the ass, but if you starve him for a few days he calms down.” 

I don’t want to become one of those grays without grace.

I’m also losing my balance –- hey, I mean physically – just a little, and only at times.  I’m not falling over, yet. It’s probably true that when old people start to fall, it’s gravity’s way of pointing them to the grave.

On the other hand, ageing’s kinda cool. No, really. Without all  the  testosterone and other chemical cocktails that drove this vehicle up the mountain all these years, I can sit back and watch the scenery more serenely. Appreciate things a little more; live each day a little deeper. The slowing down, or the need to, makes for a more mindful perspective on everything that passes by.

It’s like Joni Mitchell said, “There’s something lost and something gained in living every day.” So at the rate I’m going, in ten years I’ll be enlightened but also a blithering idiot.

The other thing this week that’s knocking me out is gratitude. We were at one of our community parties this past Saturday night. It was actually called Gratitude. I love the hours it ran: 9 to 5,  like work in reverse. Half the people there were in costumes, and the place was full of wild abandon – half naked aerialist performances, video art, a “Silent Disco” (a quiet tent with everyone dancing their heads off…with wireless headphones attuned to a choice between two DJs); a crafts tent; a healing tent with free massages, a chill space with a sprawling, pillowed “cuddle puddle” that got more, um, interesting as the night went on; another tent with live dance music. And all for 20 bucks.

Imagine discovering a whole subculture that thrives underground and a whole tribe out there that loves to celebrate being alive by having unbridled (and I do mean unbridled!) fun together.

I had gathered a posse beforehand, as I always have, because when you’re in your sixties and you’re partying with mostly 20 and 30 somethings, it’s best to have a few friends around. This time 15 people showed up at our place beforehand and we took several cars there together. We ranged in age from 23 to 65. What felt so good later on was when some of them expressed gratitude to me for arranging a “magical night”. One of my friends told me “I’ve never experienced anything like that before! Thank you!”  I just do what I do, but when people take notice and express appreciation I feel affirmed for just being me.

But this wasn’t the highlight of my night. I ran into a couple of patients there. One was actually an ex-patient, and he liked talking to me but seemed to be wondering what on earth I was doing there. The other was a current patient, and one of my favorites. For the past few years we’ve done terrific work together. At one point during the night, she sat me down and took pains to express the deepest kind of gratefulness and appreciation for what I have done for her, or, more accurately, what she has been able to accomplish with my help. I was all verklempt.  (It’s actually harder to take gratitude than to give it. Have you noticed?) It was difficult to take in all this love, but I could see she meant every word and all I can say here is – this is why I work. This is why I did a 180 some 20 years ago and quit being an executive recruiter and placed my ass in therapy and shrink school and struggled like crazy to build a practice. I did it to make a difference and change the course of lives. Or of just one life. So fuckin’ dayeinu, man!

Finally, there’s Shelley, who the next day said, “I love sharing this life with you! I didn’t like my life, back in my first marriage. Ever since I met you, I’ve loved living!” What’s that worth?

Then, later at night, she peeks into my office – “I just caught the first 5 minutes of an old movie I DVR’d and had to stop  because this movie is for us. Come watch!”

Ever see Capra’s “You Can’t Take It With You”?

This very relevant movie from the Depression era is a classic about classism, and addresses the 99% vs. the 1%.  This along with paranoid cops investigating a suspected terrorist cell; and an eccentric “grandpa” (Lionel Barrymore) who dropped out of the corporate world 35 years before to create an exuberant, sometimes chaotic household of dreamers, inventors and artists, a little bohemian paradise of young and old under one roof. 

There’s such generosity of spirit in this movie, it made me wonder what kind of future household stirs inside of me. What could I create, should I dare to let it all go myself?

I could start with the household I’ve already got right here with Wonder Woman and Krazy Kat. 

So this getting old is yet to…get old. I lose something and gain something with every passing day. (Like, you think I could have appreciated that flick so much even 10 years ago? Hah!)

I may be losing strength with which to keep climbing the mountain, but I’m gaining a growing capacity to enjoy the view.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. Tresa permalink
    December 13, 2011 12:36 pm

    I laughed at your mention of taking a posse with you to go party with the younger crowd. My single girlfriends (in their 30s and 40s) have recently taken up skateboarding and make sure to always go to the parks together so they’re not the creepy old ladies hanging out with the pubescent boys. It shouldn’t be necessary, but it simply is.

    You said: What could I create, should I dare to let it all go myself?

    You can’t, though. Or maybe you shouldn’t. Balance seems to be what you have found. To let it all go would mean losing some of the good things you’ve found. But maybe what you’d end up with would be better than what you have.

    I’ve been around just long enough to start to notice the ups and downs, the give and take, the have and the want. Awareness of being in a place of decline at any given moment seems to cause me extra grief, even when it shouldn’t, for I know that things will turn around at some point. But I seem to get whinier when I’m suffering. Or more impatient for the good times to return? Perspective isn’t working for me in the ways I thought it would. Hoped it would. I expected to be levitating a little bit by now, and I’m still picking gum off the bottom of my shoe.

    • December 19, 2011 6:25 am

      Tresa I am touched by your words. But I wonder if you may be suffering from the same thing that leaves us feeling compelled to take people with us when hanging around younger folks: Internalized ageism. The idea that the older, the worser. Imagine having to feel ashamed of going skateboarding alone simply because of one’s age! Society, you and I are all sick with this nonsense. And it may be infecting your daily moods as well.

      • Tresa permalink
        December 19, 2011 4:14 pm

        *The idea that the older, the worser. Imagine having to feel ashamed of going skateboarding alone simply because of one’s age! Society, you and I are all sick with this nonsense. And it may be infecting your daily moods as well.*

        Quite the contrary. My friends are not ashamed of going skateboarding, but are very aware of…just, bad luck, bad timing, people who don’t use common sense, who could get the wrong idea. Maybe they’re being paranoid, but I think it’s a sensical thing to do.

        I’ve always held, in a special place in my heart, the elders who still come out to party, there are so few of you. And you always turn out to be such deep, wonderful people, I have to think the key to turning out, likewise, must mean to always keep partying. Which, now that I write that out, seems so obvious (but I’ll take the excuse wherever I can get one).

        I know I’m not representative of the norm. As a homemaker, I’ve spent my days running on the same schedule as many retirees. I feel privileged that they let me in on conversations (I still feel like I should wait my turn to speak, “don’t interrupt your elders” has stuck). Most people my age are at work. You only run into mommies at mommy-sanctioned events, and I can only handle so much storytime (it’s the ear worm songs they sing that deter me).

  2. December 13, 2011 1:48 pm

    Congratulations Charlie, you finally got to see YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU. Now take a look at IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE and Capra’s other gems like MEET JOHN DOE and the Washington gem with James Stewart and Jean Arthur. It’s all been said before, Charlie, mostly by old Hollywood. Old age ain’t for sissies, as they say, and you’re no sissy.

  3. roy alexander permalink
    December 13, 2011 1:52 pm

    That’s some sentiment from Shelley. Charley, you lucky stiff. Roy

  4. December 13, 2011 2:23 pm

    So basically you’re saying you’re all washed up and it’s a downhill slide from here on out? Did I miss any of the nuances?

  5. December 14, 2011 5:02 am

    I’m sure some of your physical “decline” – poor memory, loss of balance, etc, – can be remedied with proper nutrition and water, rest, exercise etc. and you know what I think of being frozen in the winter – move to a warmer climate and you will enjoy your life a lot more – gain half a year of enjoyment and that affects your general health all year! I just came back from a two week trip to colder places and love being back in Miami with no sweaters or coats or boots! It’s a huge qualitative difference and contributes to my health in many ways!

    Don’t just sit there and prophesy “senior months”! That sounds depressing to me! How old are you, anyway? There are a lot of choices you have made and you can certainly change some for your own benefit!

    • December 19, 2011 6:28 am

      Maybe, but I was once in Miami in the dead of summer, and: Are you kidding me? Heat and humidity like that can be as oppressive as bitter cold!

  6. Daniel Wininger permalink
    December 14, 2011 6:18 pm

    I second Hana Dolgin’s comment. Decline is avoidable. Slowing down, however, is a little more par for the course, but also not entirely necessary. But if you do slow down…

    Slowness has its merits: The slower you move throughout your day, the more you are able to relish the present. Serenity will be more available to you. As Cat Stevens would say, “and If I ever lose my speed, I won’t have to rush no more.” Or something like that. 😛

  7. Rich permalink
    December 14, 2011 7:00 pm

    Kudos (and a quibble)!

    Kudos! I admire your courage for acknowledging ways you feel a physical and mental decline. Old age is still a closeted minority, and the more folks can admit their journey without shame, the better. Thanks for your continued efforts to be upfront about who and where you are. I look forward to you writing 30 years from now, “Geesh, now I really feel old.”

    Quibble: It’s not Frank Capra’s YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU (even though it’s often mentioned that way). Capra was a masterful director, but when he wasn’t directing great scripts, his films weren’t very good. The superb screenwriter Robert Riskin wrote the script, based on a Pulitzer Prize winning play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. Without the contributions of these gifted writers, the film would’ve been Frank Capra’s A BUNCH OF ACTORS STANDING AROUND NOT KNOWING WHAT TO SAY.

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