Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of the death of a good friend I had met in 1970. She was younger than I by a handful of years and according to the actuarial tables, she should still be here. I wish she were.
Last year, three other old friends died and undoubtedly one or more others will die this year. After a certain age, that's what happens. If you live long enough. It doesn't even take living to an extremely advanced age to have your friends regularly drop away.
I'm fortunate (for all I know this may be common among elders in general) in being able to call old friends to mind in great detail. I even have conversations with them sometimes. This is not meant to suggest that it is anything at all like having them with me in person.
What gets me is that when we were all younger and hanging out and going places and laughing and crying and making our way through life together, I didn't appreciate how precious our shared time was. Or, at least, I don't recall doing so.
Old people don't get enough credit for withstanding – most of them with great forebearance – what they lose in these last years.
In addition to beloved friends and relatives, some people's mobility goes and where once they ran up and down stairs, played ball games with ease, rough and tumbled with the kids, they are now confined by walkers or sticks or scooters or wheelchairs.
When we leave the workforce – pushed or by choice – we lose not just our livelihood but, in the eyes of the younger, employed population, any value and respect we once earned by our talents and expertise.
Beloved places where we have lived – cities or homes or both - and treasures we have kept close to remind us of important moments past - must be set aside, sold, given away when circumstances demand we live smaller than we have before.
And we must not overlook the ultimate loss for some - our minds - and I can only weep at the thought that in many cases, they know it while it is happening.
The most amazing part is how well we manage the diminution of our presence on this Earth, absorbing the losses, inventing new kinds of lives from the ones we assumed we would have until the end.
Except on days like this one when the personal losses combined with the collective ones I haven't even mentioned swamp the senses.
Here is a video reading of a related poem by Elizabeth Bishop: One Art.
You can find a text of the poem here.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Clifford Rothband: I Can See You Smile