I'm turning 70 soon. It seems like only yesterday I was reconciling myself to my 65th birthday, fortunate of course to make it to both milestones, but knowing that time is steadily running out of the hourglass. It's not as if I come from hearty stock where everyone lives healthily into their nineties and then has the good fortune of just not waking up one day. And I've had my issues, most recently open heart surgery just last year.
The older I get the more I seem to "work" for Doctors who take charge of my body with tests, medications, procedures, just about any time they want. And I'm not in it alone: friends, some from childhood or college days, are going through the same thing, that is the ones who have made it thus far.
Speaking of college, for some reason, unknown to me now, as a student (that's my college yearbook photo to the right) I had memorized John Masefield's graceful poetic masterpiece, On Growing Old. Masefield wrote the poem when he was only 41, as if some sudden, unexpected poetic insight into his own future materialized. I still know the words today. One of our first boats was named 'Spindrift' because of a line from the first verse:
Be with me, Beauty, for the fire is dying;
My dog and I are old, too old for roving.
Man, whose young passion sets the spindrift flying,
Is soon too lame to march, too cold for loving.
I take the book and gather to the fire,
Turning old yellow leaves; minute by minute
The clock ticks to my heart. A withered wire,
Moves a thin ghost of music in the spinet.
I cannot sail your seas, I cannot wander
Your cornland, nor your hill-land, nor your valleys
Ever again, nor share the battle yonder
Where the young knight the broken squadron rallies.
Only stay quiet while my mind remembers
The beauty of fire from the beauty of embers.
Whatever compelled me to commit that to memory more than fifty years ago? Was it a perverse acknowledgement that I too would one day be the subject of the poem although at the time I would have thought 70 an eternity away? But the day is arriving and ironically I don't feel like that at all -- I'm not nearly ready to "gather by the fire." If anything, my mind tells me I'm a kid, defying the image in the mirror, belying the health issues.
But my literary hero, John Updike, most perceptively describes the process of aging and the collateral inevitability of one's demise in one of his last short stories, "The Full Glass." The main character is thinking about his grandfather and Updike writes: “As a child I would look at him and wonder how he could stay sane, being so close to his death. But, actually, it turns out, Nature drips a little anesthetic into your veins each day that makes you think another day is as good as a year, and another year as long as a lifetime. The routines of living – the tooth-brushing and pill-taking, the flossing and the water glass, the matching socks and the sorting of the laundry into the proper bureau drawers—wear you down.”
No truer words were ever written. So, onward into my 70's!
And Happy Holidays as celebrated in Florida.........