Sandra Martin in The Globe today( Saturday) writes about her turning 70 trip to the Galapagos and segues into boomer thoughts on aging.Perhaps because of two events in the last week, I too ( maybe too often lately) also ruminated on the disconnect between my insides and outsides.But yes, I too marvelled at the blue footed boobies, the ancient lumbering tortoises and the need to preserve the fantastically coloured crabs. Even if it meant not flushing toilet paper!
Martin writes,”Going to the Galapagos was a chance to meditate not on mortality, but longevity , since I’m not the only one getting older these days.” She continues to state that “[f]or the first time, there are more Canadians over 65 than under 14…Modern medicine maybe not have vanquished death, but it has certainly pushed it to the sidelines.” Yet always mindful of my mother’s attitudes towards doctors and hospitals, like COD liver oil, the remedies must be accomplished quickly, distastefully but nonetheless endured so I make my annual visit to my physician, my attempt to get in and out as quickly as possible, avoiding as many tests as possible. Unlike many who arrive with a lengthy list of aches and pains, I surmise that decrepitude is the price for living longer- and anyway should some bodily distraction resist self- healing, I’ll make a separate appointment for a more detailed examination of putting said part under a microscope.
The doctor enquires, “ How are the eyes?””Dry- I’m taking Drops”. “ How are the bowels?” “Better in California, but we’ve all ready discussed it .” “ When was your last period.?” I look quizzical, laughing, wondering .He embarrassed demures,” I have to ask.” “Too long ago to remember…how about 55?…”
My mind wanders to my mother with whom I wish I could now more fully empathize who would reiterate at 90 ,”It sure ain’t the golden age.” Not quite at that stage, I sometimes think there is a disconnect with my mind, my registering of sensation, thoughts in my interior, and the reflection in the mirror. As I say to my husband even when we’re in our finery, well, at least cleaned up for our Saturday night date ritual, “ Old is old”. Where the stomach although not sagging or huge, still protrudes. Where even the devices of glasses and hearing aids do not bring the world into precise focus or sound. Where feet occasionally trip or an afternoon nap is soooo sweet. The doctor enquirers,”How is your energy level?” Do I tell him I fancy a snooze around 3 or pause when climbing the three flights to my painting class? No. I respond, “ Not like Howard’s” who rises at 5 to exercise and then can count 20,000 steps more in a day, nonstop activity. So I think I am a bonus to this doctor at the beginning of his day, the picture of health that still bends and straightens, pretty much as I have for years. Besides, he has others- truly ill patients to follow. No doubt some younger, perkier, most likely still have monthly flow.
At my Pilates studio, there was a celebration of our instructor’s new venture as she rebranded. On a perfect afternoon in a truly lovely affair, her clients gathered to toast her. As I looked around, I noted most were of my vintage, well heeled, about my age, more or less. And my husband added upon observing the crowd,” all with straight, upright postures and good backs.” She has worked hard to support her clientele, her knowledge obvious upon viewing us as a cohesive group. And on the inside hidden from the well polished exteriors the fears and foibles of aging, of life, of avoidance or repair of age-related affirmities, of change. It at that moment, while imbibing and snacking , chatting and relaxing, the beautiful surface of healthy bodies has gathered to assert the possibilities of health, exercise, good aging.
For me, turning 70 was the line in the sand, viewing myself standing on the other side, “ the waiting room” as coined by my daughter-in-law’s grandparents. Although they joked about the approach of that new dimension of personal evolution, that twilight zone that awaits us all, reaching that age is sobering. And although those morbid thoughts are not my constant companion, they are inescapable upon gazing into the mirror or surveying the wonderful photos from the Pilates event. I used to joke with my students how amazing Georgia O’Keefe’s face was as each line, crevice and ditch represented signs and symbols that reflected the wisdom of events in a life, possibly well lived, or able to record the pain but also joys that accrue in every day encounters. Still as I scan the faces of Millennials or those younger such as the muscle bound fellow overlapping my seat at the Jays game Friday, the secret is : not one of us escapes and you too will get old and lose that robust beauty, that gleam of the solidity of step and body you are presently experiencing.It is the secret that even if we know, we tend to forget, erase, ignore as we leap two flights of steps or reach for the highest shelf with no clawing pain in our shoulders.
However, to combat the decline of the physical is the inner life, because the interior of a person, an oldster, a boomer is so rich: contemplating the joy of a grandson racing through the Bata Museum collecting clues; the appreciation of the table bouquet of fuchsia and orange blooms this week at the Law Society; cuddling against my husband’s warm body when I cannot sleep; watching birds wolf down the seeds at the feeder and a squirrel mount pole to get his fair share; the cool of the pool on these inexplicably humid days; the joys of sensation;the still( for how long?) deep discussions and thoughts on books like Waking Lion and the quick sarcastic interchanges by email with my irreverent friend in La Jolla whose sparkling wit makes me laugh, the satisfaction of painting that that has improved just a bit and serves as a retreat into mindfulness, and less occupation with jarring or sad thoughts. Being able to live, more or less, without pain with three herniated disks. These are my bowl full of gratitude while I persist, my accumulated wealth, the thoughts I collect and bank in my head.
I think my mother knew that one has little control in life, that it happens to you, that fate and luck play a role and one can only alter so much, try as we may, that we must work with what we have. So we strut and fret our hour on this stage, ranting silently at technology that changes our words, doing what we can to clear the chaos. And like my wise mother, an ordinary but extraordinary person building a house on sand to be swept away but hoping some fragment or particle , some idea will have taken root in her children: of her, of her ideals, her way of doing things, her desire for a better world lived out in an unassuming, virtuous thoughtful way, we push forward against the world, events these days so horrorful of immigrant children, trade sanctions, stupid people in power,
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known…
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
And although I never figured that poetry gleaned and memorized in university would stay with me and persist so strongly in my head, it has -and expresses sentiments more succinctly, more sweetly (these lines pilfered from Tennyson in Ulysses),
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are…