Way back in 2003 when I first started blogging, I wrote a post about how fine minds sometimes deteriorate with age. That post didn’t make it through the various shifts from Typepad to WordPress and God only knows how many different blog names as I cycled through my periods of feeling comfortable out in the full frontal ether of the Internet for awhile, then ducking and running for cover. When I found it this morning in a box I could label “Dusty and Almost But Not Quite Forgotten,” I was struck by two things: one, it’s 14 years later and I’m a hell of a lot older; and two, maybe precisely because of that fact, it’s more relevant now than it was then. Back in 2003, I was more of an observer of what I considered the older set; now I’m right in the middle of it — not the gated country club part, but steadily aging (lots better than the alternative). So instead of placing this post back into the archives of the way back machine, I’m putting it here as a place marker and reminder to stay sharp, girls and boys, stay sharp. Makes the trip a lot more fun.
Gated golf course country club retirement communities strike me as a kind of adult congregate living facility for rich old folks, where people dine while drunk, put their meds right out on top of the table and the hired help still treats them like the Someones they once were.
I’m sorry. That was a sharp-tongued paragraph. It was my distress talking. Visiting some dear old friends who live in this environment, I had a visceral, negative reaction to the surroundings. Not their fault, and no reflection on their fineness. Seeing people who were at the top of their game only a few years ago, now being passively waited on at round tables in an elegant room, still having the same conversations about their last big deal upset me. Mainly the talk was about the glorious past. When it turned to the present and future, once it got beyond the golf game, for those who play — some only drive their cart around, chauffeuring a small, expensive dog — the smell of fear mingled with the after dinner coffee and brandy. And it got to me.
Here’s the thing. When the mind of a young person is wasted because of unavailable opportunities, one may legitimately say it is society’s fault. But an aging person with a fine mind who allows it to deteriorate despite the absence of organic disease, bears the responsibility themselves.
I imagine a hand-forged, finely balanced chef’s knife. When used daily and honed regularly, the chef can let the knife do much of the work. I’m no chef, but I do have one favorite knife. It’s always sharp, reliable and feels good in my hand. If I am going to be anywhere in the world with a kitchen and staying for more than a few days, that knife goes with me. Left in a drawer, seldom used, it would quickly become dull, useless and forgotten.
Remember the old movies where the hero is running through a labyrinth of caves? He (and it was always “he” in the old movies) inevitably winds up in a room where all visible means of escape have been closed off. Suddenly a creaking sound alerts the hero that the stone ceiling is moving slowly, inexorably, toward the floor where he will be crushed unless he finds a way out fast.
Getting old is kind of like that. And I don’t mean over 40 old. Sorry, kids, that ain’t old. I mean past 75, 85 and 90. Where increasing numbers of us are headed every single day. We had better figure out how to deal with it. Retiring from active work at 65 and conveniently dying at 70 after a couple of cruises and a week in Vegas isn’t real world anymore. Used to be darn near automatic. We’re retiring earlier and living longer. Much longer.
And unlike the movies, the door that finally opens to get us out of the room is not the one most of us are hoping for.