Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, October 26, 2014

"Not too bad for an old man."

Who is that old grey haired man looking into the distance?
(At Oban Scotland) 
Coming toward the end of the pathway of life. (At Oban)
When people ask me the question, "How are you?" one of my stock phrases which I use too often is, "Not too bad for an old man!" I want to share two interesting aspects about getting old. 
You have to stop living life in the future.
I am reading a novel, a bit of a contrived novel because it is written by the New Testament scholar, Marcus Borg. It really is a theology book in novel form.... quite a good effort. One of the characters is talking about his life. "Turning fifty was no big deal - I was becoming established... writing books...being noticed.... But the approach of sixty is different. When I was growing up sixty was old - it really was. ..... I think I have lived my life in the future - that goes with ambition, you know. Fulfillment is in the future - life will be good when I've made a name for myself .... But what's the future when you're getting close to sixty? It seems to me that sixty and older is about decline." (Putting Away Childish Things - Marcus Borg.) At sixty six I can identify with that. I can no longer run as I used to. When I do I am slow and ungainly.. I will never have that feeling of floating over the surface, the exhilaration of it all again. I still enjoy a sex life but my orgasm is a whimper compared to what used to happen and it takes me all night to do what I used to do all night.... I will never regain that sexual power and passion I once had... the best of my sex life is over. I ran a Church and there was always the possibility of new people, new programs, a great sermon ... always a future dream... now I sit in the back pew listening to lousy preaching. I had new jobs and new dreams but what is there to look forward to at sixty six?  When I lay my head down on the pillow to go to sleep I will often purposely think of something positive in the future as my last thought before I drift off. I am used to thinking of such things as the creative opportunities in a service I am planning; a half marathon I am working towards; a special night off with my wife; a project at Church I can look forward to with its possibilities or some other positive future possibility.  Lately with my wheezy chest, the natural decline and uncertainty of health and the ongoing, seemingly endless challenges of night shelter "stuff", I find it more difficult to find positive thoughts to go to sleep with. "The future" seems cloudy, short and uncertain.  The character in the book says he was learning to live in the present and to enjoy the present. I am not sure that it's the total answer, I still think it is good to dream and plan, but it is an issue. As you age your future dreams are limited by decline and limited time. You have to change your "reason for being" somewhat. I have a new admiration for people I know or have known who face adversity and the decline of abilities with fortitude and cheerfulness. I often think to myself, "What on earth can they look forward to? Yet they remain positive." Please God let me learn that skill.
Accumulated grief...
One other thing about getting older is that you have accumulated grief. Lots of people you have known have died. Lots of people who have been in your life have moved on, physically to other places or for a number of reasons, friendships or closeness you once had have ceased or changed.  I was in the brewery where I am chaplain the other day and walked passed the door I used to turn into to see a friend. He died just a little over a year ago. This day, as I often do, I felt a tinge of sadness at the remembrance of him. "I would no longer have those conversations" hit me with a new sadness. Down the street I bumped into a man who is a church elder in the church I recently retired from. We had shared a lot together over the years I was there. He was the one I had worked most closely with. I love him.  I talked with him in the street and he told of working hard in the Church that still has not really replaced me.  The Church and its work was top most in his thoughts, but it was the last thing I wanted to talk about. Our friendship has changed! We are drifting apart. We are not part of each others' lives any more... and that is sad. It is a bereavement.  I drive around areas of town and I see the houses of people who were dear to me in my life. They have died and others live there now. I feel sad, they were part of my life but are no longer there. The older you get the more sadness, the more "goodbyes" you have said, the more changes you have been through, the more often you have experienced grief. Somehow we carry a certain load of accumulated grief. It is not life destroying, but it is something I never realised when I was a young person wondering why older people often stayed silent and looked into the distance.


Keith Harris said...

Dave, as I am three years older than you, your post makes me feel a little depressed, which is the opposite to the effect you usually have on me (and others, I'm sure!). Why don't you try giving thanks for having been given so many great years - and for the possibility there may be many more to come? Yes, we are in decline, but we are privileged to still be here!

Dave Brown said...

Agreed Keith... I am really just saying there are challenges to cope with and adapt to and these are two of them. Each stage in life brings challenges. Yes happy to have made it so far, I know plenty who have not. My Dad died at 49, so I am in bonus territory.

Linda Myers said...

I'm with Keith on this one. You talk like you've been put out to pasture. Haven't you really just ended one part of your life and are transitioning to another, still unknown stage?