The International Writers Magazine: Lifestyles
Observations on Being Really Old
I believe I’ve referred to Malcolm Cowley’s little book, “The View from 80” in this column before. (Cowley was a noted American writer and literary critic). At any rate, I recently found the book again and read it again; it’s worth a re-reading. One passage I found especially pertinent goes: “The new octogenarian feels as strong as ever when he is sitting back in a comfortable chair. . . In a moment he will rise and go for a ramble in the woods, taking a gun along, or a fishing rod, if it is spring. Then he creaks to his feet, bending forward to keep his balance, and realizes he will do nothing of the sort. The body and its surroundings have their message for him, or only one message, “You are old.”
Cowley compares attaining the age of 80 to entering a new country, a country of the old. I believe I’ve written something similar here, saying that until 80 or thereabouts you are old but at that point you start feeling really old. Cowley then goes on to list some of the occasions when the really old person receives this message. These include:
1: it becomes an achievement to achieve thoughtfully, step by step, what you once did instinctively
2: when your bones ache
3: when there are more and more little bottles in your medicine cabinet; when you fumble and drop your toothbrush
4: when you can’t stand on one leg and have trouble putting on your pants
5: when you spend more time looking for things than using them
6: when you fall sleep in the afternoon
7: when you decide not to drive at night anymore
8: when everything takes longer to do, but time passes more and more quickly.
Cowley’s ruminations about being in a comfortable chair resonated with me because my favorite place, or spot, just as our cat has his favorite spots in the house, is my lazy-boy recliner, and when I lift myself up from the recliner I experience all of the things listed above. I might mention here that one of the hardships of recovering from hip replacement surgery was being forbidden to sit in my lazy-boy chair. Evidently the physical therapist was concerned that in trying to get up from it I’d somehow dislocate my new hip and she didn’t realize that I, being really old, needed to be in my spot.
Let’s face it, when you reach the point of being really old, there are certain things you can no longer do. One of these, as Cowley notes, is driving at night. I still drive to the Lodge or to Sierra Pines and back after dark but no longer venture outside of Sun City. Cowley doesn’t include traveling on his list, but that’s another thing that I’ve almost but not quite given up. Travel was one of the great pleasures of being retired. Looking through our photo albums, I see that Beverly and I did a lot of driving around California, to San Francisco, Tiburon, Monterey, Carmel, Napa, Sonoma, Calistoga, Yosemite and Tahoe. Those driving days are of course now over.
We also took a lot of bus tours, to New England, Canada, both East and West, to National Parks and to the Grand Canyon. Then we did a lot of traveling overseas, starting with bus tours to such countries as Switzerland, Spain and Portugal, France, Italy and to the British Isles and Scandanavia. When our youngest son settled in Ireland we made an almost annual trip there. When bus tours became too arduous, we took river cruises, to such places as Greece, Vienna, Prague and Budapest, through Germany and through France. Then came cruises to Alaska and to Mexico. So we’ve been through the three stages of traveling: taking off on your own, going on a bus tour, going on a cruise. I’m now pretty close to the fourth stage: staying home and looking at pictures of previous trips in our albums.
Another thing that declines with old age is physical activity. I started playing tennis when that sport became popular in the 1970’s and played three or four times a week until I was 75, quitting then because I thought I could avoid the hip and knee problems I’d seen other older players experience. It took about ten years but all that tennis playing (and handball before) caught up with me and, as mentioned, I had a hip replacement. To fill the void of not being able to play tennis, I took up billiards, taking advantage of the pool room we have in the Lodge. I try to play three times a week and hope to keep on as long as I can hobble up to the table.
Cowley also writes that there are some compensations, or pleasures, in being really old. “One of them is simply sitting still, like a snake on a sun-warmed stone, with a delicious feeling of indolence that was seldom attained in earlier years. At such moments the older person . . . has become a part of nature . . . He thinks, if he thinks at all, that life for younger persons is still a battle royal of each against each, but that now he has nothing more to win or lose.” I’m not sure if I’ve ever felt like this, but I do think that having become really old you’ve experienced a lot and many things that used to seem important no longer do. A few more Observations on being really old coming up next month.
© Martin Green October 2015
After the Surgery
It was my first day home after knee replacement surgery. Although the procedure had become routine, especially for old guys like me whose joints were wearing out, it still was, as my doctor reminded me, major surgery.