I turned 60 last August. Heading for 61. People my age are turning up dead in the media. They always have but now perhaps I notice more often. I have fewer teeth and more expensive dentures. My lapses of memory are more frustrating and worrying. My hair is either greying fast or gone. Sometimes small injuries don’t heal as quickly. Bruises stay longer. It sometimes takes a lot of energy to cross to the sunny side of the street. Sometimes the woman I love takes me by the elbow and guides me there.
I still feel desire: to nurture the vessels of my genes (life’s purpose), to love, to be loved, to communicate, to make love, to lessen my pain and the pain of others, to live. To write. But sometimes I can feel time shortening. Just sometimes.
I can remember being a very small baby and the idea of a day, a week being a long time. A year was an age; the time until my next birthday. And a year is actually the same length now. The same number of days, hours, minutes. Time not to be wasted worrying about being old or to be wasted worrying at all, even if the ongoing struggle to control the mind that is doing the worrying can be a worry…
At the same time a second, a minute, hour or day are a lifetime for some. They might be all that is left of my lifetime. I can either be senselessly worried senseless about dying or I can get on with living as much as possible. This in turn means becoming well and fitter and staying productive, maybe more productive than ever before. There are projects in all directions.
Just as a day is as long as it was when I was a child, so life has always been as precarious. I can’t deny I’m heading for 61 and that deterioration is evident but I can’t deny either that it’s amazing to have existed as the pinnacle of evolution – a self-aware and conscious human – at all. It’s amazing to have survived this long and to have lived in a country not plagued by war, disease, famine or – er – plague in that lifetime.
All this means I have opportunities even if in the best scenario of another 40 years plus the deteriorations of ageing will take increasing effect. Heading towards 61 I have a window that, although not as wide as it was at 21, can be exploited with the knowledge, understanding and empathy that those 61 years of awareness bring. I just need the energy.
I have noticed that the expectations of age are something that other people – especially young people – seem to put on one. For some reason I have a Senior Citizen’s Railcard and I get my medication free. There are many negatives to slowly increasing frailty but there is also the increased authority. It might be that I have somethings to say and some people who might listen. So I had better tell them. Soon.
Once I found it hard to begin to write and sometimes couldn’t find anything to write about unless I was seeking relief from my own unhappiness (unhappiness is another frustrating waste of time…). Sometimes I was afraid to write because there was only one thing to write about really, And writing about it would blow my life even further apart. These days there are almost too many things to tell you; too many stories and lessons. And nothing to stop me.
Still sometimes I am just guiltily tired and want to sleep at times when I should be in or out and about doing, doing, doing. Is that allowed? But increasingly now, once my mind is focussed on writing, the ideas and concepts to be explored come in to my head as suddenly and unexpectedly as birds flying over the fence and into my garden. I might be focussed on photographing this flower when suddenly there is a robin or blue-tit or blackbird or jay hopping about on the lawn or hanging from the bird-feeder. I need to photograph them too but not only are they beautiful distractions, they are gone by the time I have time to turn and refocus my camera. Sometimes there are squirrels…
I am breaking one of Hemmingway’s rules of writing: when it begins to flow and the ideas come quickly, stop. Then the idea you stop with will still be there and getting going will be easier next time. Writing this time has – oops there was a magpie! – taught me that it might be important to keep a notebook and pencil beside the keyboard to catch and hold the tits and sparrows that appear from the undergrowth. The tits and sparrows are what I might be writing and blogging about next time or the time after that.
Being 61 then – the general probability of decline suggests – might be a great time to write, an important time to write, an urgent time to write before the wisdom goes cold, before the climate gets too hot, before the sea levels rise too high, before the coral is all dead, before the cod is all gone, before the country is overcome by the angry hungry from the south, before the revolution, before the next plague, before a bee is a creature from the past, before it’s your turn to be nearly 61.
So, later, I will get on with it. In the meantime duty calls.