I’ve just had a birthday. I’m only 79. Queen Elizabeth is 91, Ruth Ginsberg is 85, Gloria Steinem is 84, and Jane Fonda is 80. Thank god that old-old category has been moved up to 95. Therefore I (and Elizabeth, Ruth, Gloria, and Jane) still have many years to enjoy this final stage of middle-old-age. Actually that phrase ‘final stage’ isn’t exactly how I want to think of these years. Although—and here’s the dichotomy—I find satisfaction in doing some things ‘for the last time. Admittedly, there is an undercurrent of melancholy—but rarely downright sadness—that accompanies some last experiences, but everyday lasts, such as the following, are almost pain-free.
Goodbye first grade, menstruation, childbirth, first marriage and last lover, bad career choices (teaching middle school comes to mind). Checked Off. All Done. Fini. Good for Queen Elizabeth, skipping that teaching middle school gig. But she was in the army during WWII which was likely almost as bad.
There are a number of more mundane events that have already happened or soon will happen … for … the … last … time that I won’t miss at all… For example, I’ve purchased my last new car; my last raincoat (I live in New Mexico for god’s sake; my fancy REI rain suit could last four hundred years); my last skirt (actually did that about twenty years ago because I never liked dresses and frilly things anyway); I’ve danced a last time (also about twenty years ago…and I was drunk or I wouldn’t have embarrassed myself even then). I’ve eaten Mopani worm, deep fried cricket, rotted shark, and four and twenty blackbirds for the last times…and kale and broccoli are on a looking-forward-to-the-last-times list.
Then there are the lasts about which I’m feeling more than a little gloomy. Mostly involving family and travel. The number of activities I can fully share with my kids and grandkids are shrinking in number, both because of physical limitations and because I’m getting more sensitive to, or cranky about, everything from two wines to all noise.
Travel is where the last conundrum is most obvious though. For example last year…new car, trip over both new and familiar two-lanes with my beloved Minnesota at the end. Much of the way was pleasant enough, nothing even hinting at trouble or trauma, and yet, I’ve realized as time has passed, I do not want to take anymore long-distance solo (or probably, accompanied) road trips. I feel sad about that as being out on the highway, just me and my car and some Fig Newtons and the Oh Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack is…as I’ve said many times…as good as it gets. Not so much anymore though. It’s a loss.
Getting old(er) is the most bizarre travel experience of all. Time travel. I’m going to try to write my way through it, to note the good stuff, but also not to avoid the less-than-good. Like what’s happening to my body for example. I’ve decided to include a photo of some small piece of me with each post. A toe, a patch of thinning skin, a pretty white hair.
Also a quote since there are thousands, perhaps millions, of quotes about ageing. The following one nicely sums up this most disconcerting of experiences.
The great secret that all old people share is that you really haven’t changed in seventy or eighty years. Your body changes, but you don’t change at all. And that, of course, causes great confusion. (Doris Lessing, The Sunday Times, May 10, 1992)
(Heading, Greenland 2016)