It happens to all of us as we get older- we find the richness of our memories satiating, filling us with a sort of glee that the thought of things past becomes more than enough. Age is rued by many but it can be a joyful experience. When I was little I wanted to be older. Now that I am aging- hair greying rapidly and joints squeaking- I am understanding the beauty of aging. My beloved uncle Bertie sent me a lovely email the other day. He said in it that I should continue to help others. I didn't give the suggestion much thought but then as I was walking the hound this morning, the sun piercing through the misty shroud which enveloped us, I understood. I looked at the hound's smiling face and felt that sense of contentment that I experience often these days. A sense that everything is as it should be. Age gives us not only wisdom but something else and more valuable. A preparation for death. Strange, I hear you say, when we spend our entire lives fearing the inevitable. But look at it this way: instead of despairing at the loss of memory- 'what's his name again?' or the complete absence of recall at times in the short term or a haziness that renders many, many things obtuse - in fact, all of these are a type of blessing. As we age we are in fact becoming ethereal beings. The ties that hold us to this earthly life are loosening. Information stored in our heads is becoming garbled. Friendships that have not stood the test of time become irrelevant. Those that stayed for a season only in our lives become entirely forgettable. The metaphorical knife that went straight through our hearts inflicted by the words and deeds of others doesn't hurt anymore.
Older people are frequently chastised for reminiscing ad nauseum and living in a long dead past. That is an error on their part. I never saw the past as anything but that- past grief, over, without direct consequence to the present moment. The lovers have long disappeared and I am glad they have. One must make peace with all those fractured parts that made us who we are. Every lover mattered but an enduring romance of substance is a rare thing and with age, one accepts that. "It is what it is," is the refrain of those who have been through it all and then some.
Age teaches us that nothing matters or makes sense. An elderly woman who died recently in Australia left behind a series of notebooks which she amply filled with her thoughts on life. She died alone and no one knew she had passed for several months. In her own words, life was often pointless and full of despair. She was tormented by her loneliness and the struggle for survival- the incessant need to carry on, to bolster oneself with the steeliness to endure. Despite her frequent thoughts of suicide, she hesitated each time she thought of taking her own life. Why? It's not that as we age we feel aggrieved by life and wish to die. No, as we age we are acutely aware that we are blessed to have life still coursing through our veins however difficult or miserable it may be. We're not ready to go yet. But life to the end of our days remains a conundrum without answer that tortures and delights us in equal measure. The soul, the spirit inside us is a mischievous genie conjuring up yet another riddle.
Age brings us closer to God. I chatted to an atheist the other day and by the time we had finished debating the existence of God, he declared himself an 'animist and perhaps not really, an atheist.' I smiled and looked at him directly in the eye. He's in his 60s and suddenly, out of the blue, the essence of God cannot be overlooked entirely. The concept of a higher being might remain elusive for some forever but for others, a change occurs after middle age when enough time has gone by that we can see far behind us, and we realise that in many instances something rescued us from ourselves.
Age gives us opportunities to soar. I recently woke up and decided to organise a world class art exhibition. I grabbed the 'phone and began making calls to people I didn't even know. Six weeks later an exhibition featuring one of the world's finest figurative artists opened in an exclusive estate in the south east of England. I stretched myself, was tortured to the point of not sleeping and lost weight, my face broke out in most awful rash, I could barely taste the food I ate every day. I worried like hell. Why did I do it? Why not? Would I do it all again? Absolutely! My late father always drummed into me to take risks in life and that way I would be happy. I've lived by that, mind you, I've fallen on my face many times but I'm still here. And I'm still smiling. Age makes us fearless and so we should be. Fear paralyses and prevents us from sprouting wings. Ironically it is because of age and experience that once we sprout those wings we immediately know how to fly.
Age is about the present because we can't see the future. In my twenties I was enthralled by Buddhism. In my fifties I see the words 'there is no beginning or end' as the most beautiful and poignant of all. (I am in fact a Catholic but that does not prevent me from offering reverence to other faiths.) We are like the stream that runs into a river that runs into the sea. That is all. The process of aging is a reminder of life as both ephemeral and ethereal. Who knows where the source of that stream is or where it will end?
And so I must rest now and recover from my art exhibition challenge. You see, I'm getting old.