Sunday, March 29, 2009

#156 On Aging . . .

This week's Sunday Scribblings asks us to reflect on aging.

I thought once I would die young for I never saw a tall person, and very quickly, at the age of 12, I grew to be 5’8”, tall for a girl-child and still tall for a woman.

I loved the lines of Rabbi ben Ezra, “Grow old along with me, the best in life is yet to be . . .” Isaac Asimov included those lines in the opening of his Foundation series, which I discovered in my teens when I read science fiction by the box. Later I learned Robert Browning wrote this poem, and other lines jumped out: “What I aspired to be, / and was not, comforts me.”

Melina Mercouri, flush with fame for her portrayal of a prostitute in Never on Sunday and appearing on an Ed Sullivan show, said something like, “Get that camera in here close. I want it to show every line. I have lived and I have earned these lines.” There was a woman I admired. She was not afraid of her age.

Other lines, from Omar Khayyám's Rubaiyat, have stayed with me: “I come like water, like wind I go.” And in a cosmic sense, Robert Frost, that great American poet, wrote “Fire and Ice,” which neatly puts the fate of the world and all of us accountable.

Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

I was a quiet little kid. I wore glasses, read books, was last chosen for games, and the first to move to a new town or a new family. My childhood I now remember as a steady stream of argument, fueled by cases of beer and nights of brutality. I somehow reached 17 and wrote a desperate (and most likely horrible) poem that ended: “There’s no such thing as a future, whether good or bad,/ there’s only the past, taunting you with things you’ve never had.”

My aunt took me away, and my life changed. I went to college and worked to pay for it. It took me 11 years to graduate, working full-time after those first two years at a community college. Now and again, a teacher would encourage me, and this made all the difference. Of course, I became a teacher myself and at a community college. I could help others as I was helped. My dreams of somehow creating a harmonious family, loving my husband and a child – all came true because of the generosity of one person.

So I would say aging, if we are so lucky, is about understanding our lives, the choices we’ve made, and how each decision, each act shapes us and those around us. So many times, we seem afraid of death, and yet, death is the natural end to all of life. What is aging but a preparation for death?

If we are so fortunate to have a long life, then these last decades allow us to come to terms with who we have become. Each day thus can be a gift to appreciate and celebrate. I remember my 20s and 30s, and even into my 40s, as a struggle to become something I could barely imagine. But now, in my mid-60s, I can simply be.

It’s early morning, and the yellow-breasted kiskadee begins its song to wake the sun. Today, we leave on a grand adventure, to do something I once read about in Richard Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast – we will sail around the horn at the tip of South America. My suitcase is packed. My computer is nearly ready to go. And I am thrilled to be able to say to my husband, “Grow old along with me. The best in life is yet to be.”