I cannot believe how long it’s been since I came back to my writing tablet here online. Time is relevant and not relevant depending on the matter at hand and the importance on a scale of birth to death.
In my case, the last chapter is always the shortest in most fiction and theatre, and mine is continuing still. For this I am grateful.
I feel like talking about old people. I just read that Efrem Zimbalist passed away at 95. I never knew him and cannot comment on his personal life, but his public persona was a steady underlying buzz in my experience. like a comforting reminder that somewhere there was an actor with great charm, dashing good looks and a voice that would melt butter. I also gathered he had a remarkable knowledge of the arts, his father a violin virtuoso and mother, equally famous as an opera singer. I read in his obit this morning that he was a cut-up in college, a privileged youth with stereotypical nonchalance, but with luck he found an artist’s life in acting.
I am glad he had success in his chosen profession, and also that he was loved right up to the end by his family.
One in a billion old people can say his or her life was like this. Most people are not ever famous, even for fifteen minutes. Most old people are not surrounded by loved ones, but sitting somewhere alone looking out a window, if they are lucky, with a doctor’s appointment, if they are lucky, on the calendar.
I have seen up close and personal, the disrespect that floods an old person’s everyday life. A colleague was driven out of his teaching job by classes of disrespectful freshmen and younger administrators who tortured his last years on the job, his brain more acute and richer than ever after a lifetime of reading, studying, traveling and teaching. He is still an intellectual goldmine who just published, at 82, his latest novel. no college is mining his rich ore today, but he is in demand at book signings all over the world.
it is not just on the job, but in the market, at church, in the midst of any gathering where old people are ignored, dismissed as “over the hill,” and overlooked in conversations and appointments.
Of course, this may just be in America. Other countries, I am told, respect age and link it with wisdom. Another stereotype. If old people are wise how come our country is no longer the best in the world, since there are plenty of old people in our government and other leadership positions, and of course, the old rich who own the few corporations that keep America “running…” You can fill in the word here: amok or ahead?
I agree that just getting older has nothing to do with growing wiser. Most people never stop to think about the future because they are trying to survive the evermore expensive present. Most old people in America today who did not think very hard about living a long life, have been shocked into how quickly one plummets to the bottom of the pile when the big 50 hits. Each decade brings a bigger shock. It can be horrifying, this seemingly sudden jolt, the voice in your head that says, “Maybe five more years, maybe ten at the most.” And then there is the talk all around about twenty years from now and you are thinking to yourself, “I won’t be here.” Ten years is like a blip on the screen, and we begin to think in terms of 50, 60, 70, 80. God?
The constant reminders, the memento mori, of the Middle Ages in art, music and everyday life, must have helped focus the mind on the importance of living deliberately, of paying attention, of moving steadily or quickly towards a goal/s.
Being old in America is no picnic even if you bought the ham. We all are in a stereo/widescreen world full of terror, mystery and sorrow. Only individually can we make our personal experience comfortable, and then only sporadically between bad news reports. This should alert the still-not-considered-old people to prepare now if they want to die surrounded by loved ones, with obituaries that claim accomplishment and success, and enough money to go around when it is over.
Forgive the maudlin subject, but it could be just the jolt someone needs to think about joy and happiness, at long last. Poets have written about it for decades in their “wake up” poems. William Dunbar, the Scottish poet and Chaucer’s contemporary, wrote with terrifying honesty a poem about how the fear of death stops him in his tracks. He uses the almost untranslatable Latin verb, conturbat. It is stronger than anything in English. In his poem he lists all the people who will die, no matter how successful, rich or happy in life. It “stuns” him into poetry.
We can learn much from that era when the Black Death was sweeping away thousands by the day, like Noah’s flood. And then what? Now that we are sufficiently scared, and old enough to warrant it, what?
I find comfort in Voltaire, and I picture him in his dotage wrangling with the question, coming up with the answer in his monumental work, Candide. The best cure for anxiety is to tend your own garden. (and I may add here, laughter)
Even if you are sitting in a nursing home, looking out the window at a brick wall, you can thank God that all those years past you fed your imagination, you gathered enough flowers to make a bouquet, or better yet, a huge landscaped garden! Now, you can thank those wise old teachers who taught you how to think, imagine, dream, paint, write, sing, and play. In other words, to find joy in your mind.
If you are reading this, thinking about the ultimate goal–a happy ending, and can imagine the garden/s that you were lucky enough to see, in Paris or in your head, thank God you are still alive to enjoy your mind and it imaginings. You can still tend your garden/s despite the brick walls.
Teach a kid to dream big, and then bigger, erase all limits to an active, ever-blossoming imagination and even if he/she lives to be 100, it will not be long enough for the loved ones left behind.
“Timor mortis conturbat me”
-William Dunbar (1465-?1530)