It Isn’t Just the Body

Getting older | Riza Kazemi | Flickr
Getting Older – Reza Kazemi – Flicker – Creative Commons

I had a bit of a scare the other morning. It turned out to be nothing but it made me think once again about my age.

These days the news seems to be full of those my age or a bit older – especially the icons of my youth – who have died. Those kinds of stories have always been news, but my younger self only clucked over them in an abstracted way because they were not my contemporaries. The older me finds them disturbing in a “you’re moving up in the queue” kind of way.

As I move up in the queue, I no longer have the luxury of eating what I like and being cavalier about the amount of rest and exercise I get. More than that, I now find myself considering new conditions of my body, evaluating new pains to determine whether they are transitory or some harbinger of an oncoming health concern. I’m fortunate that the ailments I have are manageable using current medicine. But not all ailments are that amenable and the longer I’m alive, the more the odds tip in their favour.

Stories about how younger people are refusing their elders’ treasured antiques made me blink. I had not considered this at all and I’m left wondering what will happen to the things I have collected over the years. I don’t even have to consider whether my children or grandchildren will want them or not because I have no descendants. Everything I own will have to someday be sold, given away, or consigned to the trash.

I have already given or thrown away a great deal out of the understanding that no one but me or my late husband could find anything in them. I have tried to keep only what still matters to me; what I find beautiful and uplifting or what – like my dog Rufus’s leash or my dog Buffett’s collar or the pictures of people long gone from my life – I cannot bear to part with, though I know items like these will eventually be disposed of. They will have no sentimental or artistic value to anyone else.

Growing older has also affected my consideration of new things. My decision to acquire is often coloured less by cost than the item’s possible future with me. And I’m mindful of the burden that will fall on whomever is unfortunate enough to have to deal with what’s left of my life once I am dead.

For the present, I will continue to take pleasure in the art I have, the music I have collected, the full set of china I own and use on a daily basis. I will continue to add things I desire because of the way they call to me and I will enjoy them for as long as I can.

I have seen many articles asking “What would your older self tell your younger self if it could?” I’m not sure that my younger self would listen, but I would tell her not to get hung up on the idea of getting older as becoming physically diminished.

Younger people tend to think of advancing age wholly in terms of the body. But aging is really an evolving condition – one that taxes the mind and spirit, too. You will still need to make decisions that affect not only your present but your future. But when you are older, there is less future to consider. And that, in itself, becomes another thing to consider.

Happy New Year?

Firework @  New year 2014, SFO, CA

Firework @ New year 2014, SFO, CA (Photo credit: madhankumarbs)

One of my favourite parts of being a young teenager was being old enough to stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve, and young enough to be able to sleep a few hours and wake up for the Rose Parade with no ill effects. I particularly liked New Year’s Eve because it was the culmination of the whole holiday season, which began with Halloween back in October and the noisemakers, parties, and fireworks seemed like an appropriate way to say goodbye to a time of the year when people (mostly) seemed focused on being nicer than usual. It was also a time when I could feel as though I was a real part of a larger community; anticipating the same events and expecting a lot of the same things – candy on Halloween, turkey on Thanksgiving, presents on Christmas, and light and magic on New Year’s. Which is where the let-down eventually came in for me.

In the U.S., we celebrate big time on New Year’s. So do a lot of other countries. And those on the other side of the international dateline get to celebrate the new year a few hours earlier than we do. But what are we celebrating? Most people would probably say a ‘clean slate’ or ‘fresh start’. In some cultures, preparing for this fresh start includes cleaning the house from top to bottom and paying off all your debts so you start the new year unencumbered. That’s a great tradition and a nice thought, but once any end-of-year holiday time is over, we go back to the projects and problems at the office or at school. Not really much changes except the date. So the idea of a new start is largely a symbolic one, which we could just as well apply to any day in any week or month. And some of us – with our ‘I’ll get back on  that diet tomorrow’ – frequently do.

As a kid, I guess I thought there might be something magical in the change of the date that was celebrated with such enthusiasm. With this change in the numbered year, somehow a new wave of possibilities might be on their way. This might be the year that my hair stopped being so straight and fly-away or I might actually enjoy school or dad might be nicer or flying cars might be invented. But change, though it may seem sudden, is usually not. It takes time and effort for possibility to become reality. So the new tomorrow of January 1st ends up looking a whole lot like December 31st or even like January 1st from the previous year.

Maybe having seen these holidays roll by in their cycle for several decades is why I no longer view New Year’s Eve as a ritual for enticing the universe to shower blessings upon me and mine. I no longer think that if I perform the ritual correctly – having a date and a party to go to, wearing new clothes, and carrying a bottle of champagne – magically, all I have hoped for will come to pass in the next twelve months. I have seen and lost too much to believe in the efficacy of spells concocted by Madison Avenue and societal expectations. But I haven’t lost my belief in possibilities. I still hope the Loch Ness Monster really exists. I tell myself a zombie apocalypse could happen. World peace could actually happen. I’m pretty sure many of my dreams can still come true. I’ll just have to keep working on them; regardless of the date.

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