Saturday, October 10, 2015

On Getting Old

Existence grows in weight as one ages. It’s as if lived phenomena accumulated like alluvial deposits in a river and cemented into lithological regrets. Disillusionments, terminations, humiliations, hallucinations, chagrins, manias, aversions, divisions, conflicts, chaos, rocks.
Wrinkles don’t help. Nor does arthritis. Drugs, sometimes. Nevertheless, marvels continue: snow, electricity, the universe.
One discovers a subversive elegance in some of the uglier aspects of life. Beauty belongs to the young. Old age finds consolation in being less subject to the tyrannies of beauty. By the time one has reached one's sixties, one has experienced enough loss, mortality, sickness, treachery, duplicity, and disappointment to realize what a true comedy human existence can be, albeit not a particularly funny one.
I watched a video on YouTube of Willie Nelson in 1962 sing “Crazy” to a television audience and marveled at how much his appearance has changed. In 1962 he was 29, a young man on the threshold of maturity. His hair was lush and red and impeccably combed. He looked like a cross between Liberace and Kirk Douglas. Now in his eighties, he is more fully himself. His face is weathered and craggy and his hair, which is still lush and red but tinged with gray, spills over his shoulders. He looks like an outlaw of the old weird American west. He’s a perfect example of how the losses that come with the passage of time become fruitions, chrysalis and increase. The richest sounds come from a battered guitar. And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe, and then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot; and thereby hangs a tale.
I have often heard people in their sixties and seventies remark that they feel the same as when they were eighteen. I can understand that. At 68, I feel that way myself. I like the same music and have the same tendencies toward wild, crazy behavior. I also know what the repercussions of that behavior feel like and are much harder to bear in old age. I remember hangovers in my forties that felt like warmed over death. I also know that when I enter a room the heads of young ladies don’t turn to look fetchingly upon my wrinkled skull, the one with the little hairs growing out of my ears. I didn’t have an enlarged prostate at age 18, which causes me to hold up lines to the urinal in the men’s room, nor a paunch or big fuzzy eyebrows or liver spots. My future at 18 offered a grand panorama of options and possibilities. At 68, I’m invited to look over cremation and burial opportunities.
So no, life at 68 doesn’t feel quite the same as it did at 18. Although, occasionally, it does. And when I see Mick Jagger leaping about on a stage in his seventies with greater energy and nimbleness than he did in his early twenties, I don’t know what to think. Is he just making it look that way, or is it possible that in some fashion we actually can grow younger as we get older? Existence does feel heavier. But it also feels much more mortal and temporary, and that extra sense of ephemerality does something to the spirit, inflates it with hot, euphoric glee.