‘That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees,
—Those dying generations—at their song*,
I have aged beyond the normal passage of time during these last 4 months. Way beyond. No question in my mind. I did not preface that statement with, ‘I feel I have aged …’. I find it hard to work out exactly why this is so. After all, living in South Australia we have been extremely fortunate. Our busy lives have been curtailed, but not drastically. There was an early panic evident in the rush to hoard food supplies and we learnt the Australians were particularly active in stocking up their larders. During those early days, the dread for me related to the fact that we did not know how bad the virus would be for us, what nature it would take. Stories abounded. The collapse in our stock market in February emphasised the approaching storm: health and wealth threatened!
But the issue has more to do with the nature of our lives as retired people. Maybe before 2020 we were living in a fool’s paradise, ignoring old age and the waning of our abilities. But now we are labelled as a group as vulnerable, many with ‘comorbidities‘ The percentages are widely discussed – an ultra-high death rate is assured for our age group. A retired friend was told by his doctor son that he must be serious about isolation because if he ended up in hospital it was unlikely that a ventilator would be assigned to him. Triage would be in operation.
So, the story is out: we are at the end of our lives and nothing new, nothing amazing, nothing significant remains for us. Together, my husband and I had planned travel to Indonesia – an interesting bird-watching trip through remote islands and I had organised a visit to Seattle to see our daughter and to travel with her to Yellowstone National Park. We have always been travellers and being able to pursue our hobbies of birding and photography in new places has enriched our lives. In December 2019, we felt that we still had the energy and enthusiasm to do this. I am not so sure anymore.
But my premature aging cannot be just this! It has more to do with optimism, or the lack thereof. I looked up the synonyms for ‘optimism’. They are: hope, confidence, sanguinity, buoyancy, cheerfulness. And those words hit home. I don’t think they describe my world at the moment. It’s closing down. Being so in touch with the persistent bad news, watching the numbers, does not make me happier. Maybe the way forward is to deliberately NOT immerse myself in the news. Ignore it all.
‘Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’ as Dylan Thomas wrote.
That’s a bit dramatic for me and my angst.
I came across this article from the HBR. ‘That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief.’
Is this the word for this sense? Grief? Perhaps that is closer to my aging idea. Grief – looking backwards at my life and at the confusion of our present times. And maybe I just have to deal with this. I have never been a person with depressive tendencies. If you survive boarding school you develop a certain resilience! And I can look to my father’s example, how he conducted himself in his old age: never sorry for himself, never without kindness, always interested in the world, always generous.
When he died, my father left a letter for my brother and me; it contained this poem. An ancient Sanskrit poem.
‘Look to this day
for it is life
the very life of life.
In its brief course lie all
the realities and truths of existence:
the joy of growth
the splendour of action
the glory of power.
For yesterday is but a memory
And tomorrow is only a vision.
But today well lived
makes every yesterday a memory of happiness
and every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day.’
A gift. Surely, that is enough.
*WB. Yeats, Sailing to Byzantium