Peg & I were have been binge watching the British detective series A Touch of Frost with David Jason recently; it’s part of the BritBox package for those who might be interested, and you can find some episodes on YouTube as well.
In a recently viewed episode I chuckled at a scene in which an old woman is showing photographs which her TV husband had taken of her when she was a lithe and winsome lass — sans clothing — and she says to the detective, “I wasn’t always old.” There’s something so utterly human about that interchange.
We don’t talk much about the process of aging in this country. In fact over the last 50 or 70 years we have been doing a lot (as a society) to remove old age, death, and dying from sight. It began as cities got bigger and bigger and we no longer saw the process of killing animals for food — through the introduction of that great invention the grocery store. But hospitals hide disease from our prying eyes, old age homes hide the elderly from our eyes. Because so many of our population move about the country for jobs we no longer have nuclear family units so the family is less and less likely to care for their own old — and besides, most of the modern family members work so even if the old did live with us we wouldn’t be there to care for them ourselves.
When my grandparents were getting on in years my parents took the bold step of buying a building — first an 8 family apartment, which they later traded for a 12 family apartment — so that there would be a place close by for the senior members of our clan. For the most part my grand parents lived their final years there and died there. As did my parents. Only then did we sell the building and get away from the ghosts that remained. But not all are in a position to do that sort of thing. And not all families get along well enough to tolerate that sort of arrangement.
Still, there is this thing about aging…
You can’t explain to someone younger than yourself what it’s like to be your age. The changes that take place as a result of aging are only really understood by going through the process yourself. Unfortunately, with the decline of the nuclear family a lot of youngsters are denied the privilege and the experience of growing up with older adults nearby. They are denied the chance to learn from oldsters about life, about family, about caring, about responsibility, about nurture. They grow up, for the most part, with people their own age — who as has been the case for millennia — know just about as much as their fellows. There’s not accumulated wisdom to be handed down from contemporaries. You’re all learning pretty much the same things at the same time and having equal opportunities to make the same mistakes.
The thing about getting older is that our brain is on a time delay — lagging behind the body in acknowledging the advance of age. I still feel like a 30 year old in many ways even though my body refuses to do the things I could do at age 30. I’m fortunate in not having many aches and pains — Peg’s not so lucky as she has more problems with arthritis than I. But even on those days when my body is feeling it’s age my brain isn’t so willing to behave accordingly.
As we age our physical image changes. Wrinkles replace smooth, unblemished skin. Muscles atrophy. Fewer and fewer heads turn as once physically beautiful women enter the room. We find it impossible to rid ourselves of that little (or not so little) paunch above our belt. There’s less and less to attract the eye, and more and more to astonish the heart. Aging changes us. Most of us learn from our mistakes, and perhaps make fewer of them. Many of us learn to appreciate other humans more, and more, and more as we go through those periods in life when we cannot do certain things and are forced to rely on someone else to do them for us. Even when we are unlucky enough to run into not-particularly-skilled helpers they are still people who can do something that we are, in our current circumstance, unable to do for ourselves.
In my life, I’m supposed to be abiding by weight lifting restrictions. I cannot begin to convey how often I run smack dab into that limit. It infuriates me. But I’m also learning to appreciate little things that my parents and their friends went through. I’m thankful for my part that I grew up around older people, I learned some of the things to look for in their lives to help them out and sometimes I see younger folks around me that learned to pay attention to the needs of others — that’s a real joy — because too often you see people who are only interested in themselves and aren’t aware of what someone else might need. Not what they want, but what they need.
For the most part I find getting older to be a hoot. The world makes more sense to me now. I can see things in perspective and most of them don’t bother me as much as once they did. I’m glad for the craziness in my youth. I wasn’t much of a cut-up; I was way too serious in my youth. But still, I did, and we did together, the things we wanted when we were young enough to be able. Now I can look back with lots of memories on times had with wonderful friends. The early part of our lives together we spent with lots of people around us all the time, and while I enjoyed all those people I’m also glad that our life is quieter now. All of that busy-ness was “fun” but I don’t know that being busy made me any better of a person.
I’m sure that like that old lady in the Frost series I have my own secret delights. I don’t think of them that way because unlike that character on TV who had been inhibited from sharing things with others I’ve tried to live my life as openly as I could — I’m not a big secret person. I’m not into keeping secrets. For the most part I think secrets are divisive and harmful. I’m all in favor of government accountability, and corporate accountability, and personal… you got it… accountability.
There’s a lot of paranoia about what will happen to people if the government cripples Social Security. I think there’s a far more important subject to be concerned with — not that Social Security isn’t important (for too many of our citizens it’s a matter of life and death). We don’t deal with aging honestly in this country. In the same way that the current fever about sexual harassment is a short term hot-spot, the question of what to do about our aging population is a topic we haven’t even really begun to talk about.
Automation is making workers increasingly dispensable. In many areas of life machines can do what humans do far better, for less cost, without tiring. So what do we do with all the humans on this planet. We cannot continue using earth’s resources at the rate we are without compromising our ability to feed and house the earth’s population; and the concept of a global war that would leave societies in tatters is a terrible thought. Scientists have broached the topic in the popular news about the 6th Great Decimation of Population — whether from an asteroid hitting earth or a worldwide epidemic — but such sober thoughts are not the seeds of public discourse. No one wants to think about them, no one wants to talk about them, everyone hopes that those nightmares will simply fade away from memory and life will go on as it “always has.”
Healthcare means that more people are living longer. Whether they are living better is probably not for us to decide. We are far from subjective about the topic. History books — written 200 years from now will better be able to say whether we were a society that cared for one another, or not. Only then, when those then alive have seen what has come of our our children’s children will anyone be in a position to say they were wise, or foolish, or neglectful or conservationists.
We have our share of ethnic cleansing going on right now around the world. But it’s been since WWII that we have seen real mass deaths. The total death toll from WWI has been estimated to be some 15-20 million. The total death toll from WWII zoomed past that to somewhere between 50 and 80 million. We haven’t seen plague-like epidemics as were common in the Dark Ages and Medieval times, but the potential does exist. It’s possible that dealing with “old people” might not be such a big problem should something like those events occur.
But for now, we have a burgeoning world population and a declining utilization of the population. Just what all these people will do in old age is going to be interesting. Surely, they aren’t all going to go RV’ing as we did. One of the reasons we chose to quit the RV lifestyle is that even in the 6 years we were active we saw a huge difference in how easy it was to live the life. Little changes here and there caused by the retiring of more and more Baby Boomers served as the writing-on-the-wall for us. We looked down the tunnel of time and said, “maybe it’s a good time to get out.” And we are happy we did.
The thing about government that troubles me is that there’s no party, no congress, no leadership looking into the future saying, “this is where we are going, and these are the problems we will face as we get there.” It doesn’t help that scientists are being stripped from government in favor of ideology and party positions. With a growing population and increasing pressure on global natural resources the opportunity for conflict grows by the day. Conflict in an era of atomic power is far more frightening in terms of human suffering; but it’s also far more frightening in terms of the post conflict impact on the earth’s ability to support those who remain. And a world in which no men or women of vision are even considering how best to navigate the troubled waters ahead is even moreso.
The one good thing about getting to a point where one might say, “I haven’t always been old” is that it also means you aren’t going to be around all that much longer (on a macro scale — even if “longer” is 20 or 30 years). One could say, leave it to others. But that’s the one thing about aging — it teaches you that no matter your age you never dare say, “leave it to others” because you are still one of the others.