“There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age. “
Aging “gracefully” is kind of an ironic statement.
I prefer to think of it as a quest in essence.
More like an epic journey in which we must survive the vagaries of life.
By that I mean the joys and sorrows, the challenges and the rewards we reap along the way in the act of living that life.
A lifetime of education or lack thereof, good jobs and bad jobs, kids, relationships, family commitments, finances, glass – ceilings and pecking orders, not so presidential presidents, irritating bureaucrats, foggy crystal balls, fame and fortune or best laid plans too flawed to ever succeed, mediocrity, trial and error, environmental catastrophes and essentially world chaos.
Sounds terrifying and kind of overwhelming?
Some days it really is.
All this as our bodies eventually begin to wear out, in incremental degrees that remind us we are growing ever older.
As I approach my half a century mark in the very near future, I think more about this each day, and as an observer of people, I am intrigued by the way we all approach this inevitability, certainly not as a collective but in very different fashion.
I spent the day recently with my Mother, who is in her early seventies. She is an active person, a young senior I would say, in fact she is very often mistaken for my sister (which is actually as irritating as hell because it’s been happening most of my life). She’s got nice friends, lives in a nice house with lovely massive gardens she looks after herself, would happily canoe and portage 200 km if someone would go with her, invites her neighbours for tea and would be described as kind by any who know her.
However, I’ve discovered of late, and most particularly on a recent day spent shopping together – she has a crazy and somewhat dark side, exacerbated by age, dimming vision and perhaps the lessening of ones inhibitions as you move into that self-actualized state of : “ I don’t really give a shit what anyone thinks of me” time of your life.
I think going forward I’ll refer to Mom as Joanne, as in Joanne Woodward, Academy award-winning Hollywood star, because. The similarities in her most famous role are awesome. You know, pretty but villainous, nice but terrifying on occasion …Have you ever seen the Three faces Of Eve? Really quite an extraordinary movie and kind of reminiscent of my own Mommy Dearest (of course that was Joan Crawford but if the shoe fits?)
Angus and I are experimenting with a one-car household, in the interest of the environment and fiscal responsibility, which is normally not a problem but did mean that on this particular shopping trip Mom, who we will refer to as ‘Joanne’ going forward, had to drive. She worked as a sales representative for many years and drove all over a vast territory, sometimes for weeks at a time, without any trouble and so it’s never been an issue. What I hadn’t realized because usually I drive I guess, is that some kind of Mario Andretti/Jekyll and Hyde persona has begun to occupy her body once seated behind the wheel.
I now understand why the little leather straps above the passenger seat are sometimes referred to as the Jesus Handles. I’m pretty sure they’re not really there to help you get out of the car, they’re to calm your desire to jump out the window at 90 km an hour in an effort to save yourself. I considered this revelation whilst’ grabbing said handle with more haste than my already buggered rotator cuff could bare and screaming “ Jesus H. Christ Mother, slow down “ on more than one occasion. Twice, she glanced over curiously while my white knuckled hand sprung from its’ vise grip on my seat to the ceiling, as the tires on the right side of the car threatened to leave the black top. She might have noticed my distress or might not have, who knows really, as she tore down the roadway and hollered obscenities at drivers in her path, CBC Classical music blaring almost as fiercely as the air conditioning set to subzero to temper her permanent hot flashes. I’m not sure which made my teeth chatter more, the arctic air in the cabin or fear of my immanent demise.
Joanne was told by one Optometrist 5 years ago that she had cataracts that would need attending to within a few years. In defiance and denial, let’s be clear, mostly denial, she immediately decided that the Dr was a “quack” and didn’t know what they were talking about and waited three years to find herself another Optometrist. I imagine that her evil alter ego stepped out in the preliminary exam phase and assured/ threatened through barred teeth the new recruit that she would “NOT find cataracts OR ELSE”, and so the subject was not mentioned and Joanne determined that she had no cataracts. As of the moment I embarked on and survived our latest field trip, I am 999% sure the offending cataracts are here and as ‘thick as thieves’ so to say. This would in part be attributed to sweet little Joanne, roaring down the highway and screaming things like “ Nice signal Dick Wad! “ at the little blue Mazda who moved into the lane ahead of her. In fact the offender had signalled well in advance of his very nice and legal lane change but Joanne, who has apparently lost her depth and colour perception, had absolutely no clue and lambasted him rightly! This was repeated on more than one occasion. I might have spoken up but by then my throat muscled had constricted with the rest of me and I was essentially immobilized, hand still holding on to dear life with my Jesus handle.
Joanne is not as familiar with where things are having not lived here that long and so I was tasked with giving directions. As we approached a left turn with two turning lanes and with still time to comfortably change lanes I suggested she stay in the right lane, as we would next be turning right. “ Tons of time” was her quick response as she stayed in the left lane. After the turn she panicked when she saw how soon we would need to merge right and zoomed in front of a gravel truck. “ Good thing he wasn’t loaded” she chuckled. This was quickly followed with the loud expletive “ God damn now look! I’m stuck behind a fuckin’ Hun-Day! I hate Hun-Day drivers, they all suck. You watch, this fuckin’ guy will do something stupid, just watch”
Mercifully the “Hun-Day” driver, moved to the next lane while I hunkered down in my seat, head to chest and knees up cause I vaguely remembered that as being a crash position, and most likely saved himself.
We now found ourselves behind a teensy’ little convertible. “ Now that’s a car, don’t you think?’ she queried but not actually waiting for my response, so enthusiastic was she. “ I want one of those cars, a little British sports car. That would be so groovy I think”, she slammed her hands on the steering wheel for emphasis, a big grin on her face. “ I really want one, like a Fiat or a MG but every time I tell Don we need one, he changes the subject. Damn that’d be fun to drive.”
Don incidentally is my Step-Dad who, having driven with her more than I have, has undoubtedly decided a Sherman Tank might be the safest option. I remained tight-lipped on the topic, having lost the ability to do much more than gasp for air at that point. Interesting though that she wants a racecar instead of a Buick I silently mused…
So as she ages, my Moms’ driving is becoming a concern and the rather voracious potty mouth, well, she’s always enjoyed a colourful vocabulary shall we say. She’s getting older and as soon as I come to grips with that I guess we’ll have to re-visit the cataract discussion. In the meantime, I’ll drive.
My very longtime friend was here with her Mom last week for a visit. Her mom is probably about the same age as ‘Joanne” and she also is very lovely and vibrant woman who looks and acts much younger than one would assume. Of course I know nothing about what aches and pains she might suffer when she wakes up each day but I did spend some time with her as she revisited a time and place in her life where she was a teenager. Photos did wonders in bringing names of friends and recollections back to mind for her and I think she enjoyed that time to reminisce about a year in her life so many years ago and looks ahead with great enthusiasm to all the years ahead.
It made me think about how I will look back on my life, how moments that seemed big in the past become so small and some that seemed insignificant can become so big. It made mepause and try to remeber to spend more time with my Mom, her trucker mouth and Indy Circuit Driving. It made want to take more pictures and write more things down so if I can’t see someday in the future at least someone can read me my stories and remind of what was.
Aging is not always graceful and not always fun but it is a privilege we do not all enjoy. I have lost and almost lost friends and family far too young and I have celebrated each birthday of those that I love and care about as a result with a different perspective.
Gifts and parties mean little to me, it is the living I love and for each day I am grateful.
“If it seems as though things are under control, you’re not going fast enough.”