Lately, I have made a few choices to do something or not do something because – well, it seems to be connected to my time dwindling down. Or, at least, that's the reason I “think” I am doing and (mostly) no longer doing some things.
That idea has some background in my life. Let me tell you about my great Aunt Edith who was born in 1895.
She left her home in Chicago at age 15 to join a traveling dance troupe.
A few years later, the troupe left her behind in Portland, Oregon, when she was laid up with pneumonia so she found a job in an office, eventually becoming the manager.
Those of you who live in the Portland area might like to know that in 1923, my great aunt Edith was queen of the Rose Festival. In those days, they were not chosen from high schools but more or less appointed from suggestions made to the Rosarian organization.
Here she is with her “court” from a book, Portland Rose Festival, written by George R. Miller.
Until she retired at age 70 in 1965, Aunt Edith worked all her life in various corporate executive positions at a time in history when hardly any women worked out of the home. Here she is at age 68:
In addition, she cared for her ageing and sick parents when they could no longer rely on themselves and she raised her sister's son, my father, from age 10, among other family obligations she took on as need presented itself – and there was plenty. It was always something in my family and Aunt Edith handled it all.
She was my favorite relative.
By the time she retired, I was long gone from Portland, in New York City then, and every week we spent an hour or so on the telephone together discussing cooking, books, the news, politics, telling each other funny stories and we also regularly wrote letters – remember those?
She included her recipes (she called them receipts) in those missives along with New Yorker cartoons and sometimes entire articles clipped from newspapers and magazines.
She knew everything that was going on in the world and had an opinion on all of it in addition to being funny, especially, in her later years, about the minor physical irritations of growing old. She was just great.
By the mid- to late-1970s, the letters still arrived mostly on schedule but they were shorter and there were fewer enclosures. In our phone calls, she didn't have as much to say about world affairs and increasingly repeated the same stories from her childhood in Chicago that I had heard many times.
(Thank god for telephones without video in those days: you could make faces to help yourself get through the one hundredth telling of the story about Fluffy the cat without the speaker knowing how impatient you were being.)
I don't mean to suggest that these changes were sudden. Aunt Edith's disengagement was noticeable in the beginning and it increased only gradually over a decade or more. At one point she said that she had given up reading books because her eyes tired so easily now and she lamented the fact that most of her friends were dead, even many who were younger than she.
When she made a joke about not being able to stand up after scrubbing the kitchen floor on her hands and knees (“Hello, Aunt Edith,” I said. “There is the newfangled thing called a mop with a long handle.”), my brother, who lived in Portland, arranged for a regular house cleaner.
Over time it felt to me as if, perhaps, interest in her own world and in the world at large was diminishing because they were becoming fuzzier, less clear - metaphorically, not physically - and she paid less and less attention.
Her time to leave was coming nearer and she did that in 1984, at age 89 after what was to my eyes, decade long period of preparation, an unwinding if you will, and a letting go of her attachment to the world.
Ever since then, I have believed that if Aunt Edith's “preparation” is not how it happens for everyone who doesn't die suddenly or unexpectedly, it happens to some, maybe quite a lot and without making a big deal of it, I've watched for those signs in myself.
In just the past year or so, there have a few small but, I think, telling changes. Examples:
The 2016 presidential campaign notwithstanding, I watch much less cable news which is to say political news since that is about 90 percent of what those channels cover. I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that it has taken me this long to become tired of the repetition (which was around long before Trump) and know that if anything important happens, it will be hard to miss.
Similarly, I have unsubscribed from a large number of news and commentary email newsletters. Again, it is the repetition that has made them irrelevant. Aside from a handful of commentators and columnists I respect and look forward to reading, I don't feel I need to keep up in as much detail as I did during the 40 years that it was my job to know what was going on in every area of news, politics and culture and have continued in the decade since retiring.
This applies too to a lot of reporting and commentary about ageing – I've eliminated about half of what I was reading or, lately, not reading and feeling guilty about it. (There's no more guilt if they don't show up in the inbox.) Ageing news tends to be even more repetitous than political news - if that's possible.
And I'm not proud to say that I've let the frequency of email correspondence with friends decline. It just seems that there is not as much to say as there once was. I get up, I work on the blog, I attend a couple of meetings or lunches each week, I shop, cook, read and sleep. Maybe in my old age my thinking has slowed and I use up all that kind of energy writing TGB. Or not. I don't know. But something has slowed me down.
As much as I find certain technology advances captivating, I have been hesitating for a long time before making new purchases. Most recently (for a year or more) it's the Amazon Echo Dot. I just love it. I read every new report about it and it costs only $49 - that's not a stretch for me. But I still haven't bought one.
There are some other purchases I've put off and may never make because at my age, how much will ever use them seems to be my reason although I can't be certain and it could be, unrelated to usage, that I'm simply in the earliest stages of what we might call, today, great Aunt Edith syndrome.
Not even collectively can a case be made that this list of minor changes represents the early stages of preparing to shuffle off this mortal coil, as they say. But then, maybe they are.
Maybe I am at the very earliest stages of following in Aunt Edith's steps toward the end. I wouldn't mind if that's what I'm doing now because I am going to be big-time pissed off if I die while I'm still interested and curious. I want to feel done with this life when it's time to leave and Aunt Edith's gradual letting go seems to be a good way to make that happen.
I'll update you when/if there's more to say about this.