“Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” So wrote Dylan Thomas, the Irish poet, as a memorial to his recently deceased father. Unfortunately Dylan Thomas, himself, would be dead three years later at the much too young age of 38. I don’t suppose it really matters if you rage or go peacefully, you know what’s coming at the end of the road. It’s the one certainty we have in life. A lot of people say there are 2 sure things in life: death and taxes. But a some people have figured out how to avoid paying taxes so we’re left with the one surety. All I know is, that when you’re young and you look down the road of life, it’s usually sunny and clear as a bell with nothing to mar the view. (Unless you’re one of the unfortunate few that has a genetic defect or some other catastrophic event in your young life.) But at my age when you look down that very same road, you see Death flitting among the bushes, or peeking out from behind a tree, to use some Ingamar Bergman imagery. (If you don’t know who Ingamar Bergman is, look it up in your Funk&Wagnells.)
When I was a young teenager, maybe 13 or 14, I remember standing around one day with a group of guys my age, watching the old people in the neighborhood as they shuffled along. Invariably all their teeth had fallen out and they had false teeth, everything hurt them, they walked bent over with a cane, and if they were in a park, they barely had the strength to make it from one bench to the next. If you never have had the image burnt into your brain of what someone with false teeth looks like after they take them out at night to put into a glass of water, think “Night of The Walking Dead” or other such zombie movies. Suffice to say that getting old in those days was not a pretty picture. So we youngsters unanimously agreed that, ugh, this was no way to live. We all vowed that we would never want to be in that condition, and that we were better off dying by the age 60, or 65 absolute tops, to avoid the horrors of old age. After all, 50 more years down the road of life seemed like forever. I remember saying something to the effect that I just wanted to make it to the year 2000, (which would put me at 62) as if an artificial demarcation on the calendar would bring some magical occurrence. So here I am some 60 years after that conversation, with some of my teeth falling out, but no false teeth yet, and so far, still being able to walk without a cane. I’m assuming the other guys in that conversation are pretty much in the same boat.
However, life after you turn 70, certainly does change, and usually not for the better. You may have what people generously call “senior moments” where at times, you may forget some basic stuff like the brand of your car. If it doesn’t happen repetitively, you may get the benefit of the doubt that you’re not senile. Also old people generally enter a state of total obliviousness, where they feel that the focus of all the the energy in the universe is entirely on them. Everyone else that exists is totally incidental to their needs. For example, and I see this all the time since I live in a seniors community, they may be driving down a residential street and spot someone they know walking on the sidewalk. They will then stop their car in the middle of the street to strike up a conversation with that friend, totally oblivious to the possibility that another car may be behind them seeking to pass. Perish the thought of having to endure the extreme hardship of pulling off to the side of road.
If you make it to your eighties, you get a free pass on just acting weird or cantankerous. For example, not too long ago, we were in a group of 4 senior couples meeting for dinner at a local restaurant. The last couple who came about 15-20 minutes late was perhaps in their early 80s. Now I’m always hungry and ready to eat, but some seniors apparently abhor the thought of food, and have to be coaxed into eating, or so it seems. Such was the case of the woman in that late-arriving couple. First she had to relate to us all the exciting things that occurred during her heart-pounding day, before she even recognized there was a menu in front of her. She seemed to have an attitude of: “What, we’re here to have dinner? I thought we were meeting to play dominoes.” With the rest of us waiting, she finally decided that she would now take a side-ward glance at the menu. Doing so she frowned, and the expression on her faced seemed to ask: “Why have they given me a menu written in Portuguese.” Being assured that the menu was indeed in English, she favored us by rummaging through her pocketbook (which couldn’t have taken more than 10 minutes) to find her glasses, so she could read the menu with utter disdain. When the waiter finally came to take our order, there was, of course, nothing on the menu, as presented, that would suit her needs. The poor waiter, after much grilling, had to agree to have the kitchen make various substitutions to particular dishes before she would agree to order. By now, I was so famished, that I contemplated crawling around on my hands and knees under the table, looking for some crumbs or a crust of bread the previous party might have dropped on the floor.
I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the picture by now, of what you have to look forward to in your senior years. Maybe us young teenagers weren’t so crazy after all.