Many years ago, walking on a gorgeous spring morning in Paris with his friend Samuel Beckett, a man said, “Doesn't a day like this make you glad to be alive?” to which Beckett responded, “I wouldn't go as far as that.”
Ha. Love it. I know what he means.
That vignette was related in an essay in the Sunday edition of The New York Times by a man who, via his string of books on odd neurological disorders, has given me many thought-provoking hours over several decades about the astonishing behavior of the human mind.
Oliver Sacks was writing in anticipation of his 80th birthday tomorrow, Tuesday, and titled his piece, The Joy of Old Age. (No Kidding.)
”I do not think of old age as an ever grimmer time that one must somehow endure and make the best of,” he says, “but as a time of leisure and freedom, freed from the factitious urgencies of earlier days, free to explore whatever I wish, and to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together.”
Much more eloquently than I, Sacks is stating what I consider to be the underpinning of the philosophy of this blog. At the same time, he doesn't whitewash elderhood either:
"At 80, the specter of dementia or stroke looms. A third of one’s contemporaries are dead, and many more, with profound mental or physical damage, are trapped in a tragic and minimal existence.
"At 80 the marks of decay are all too visible. One’s reactions are a little slower, names more frequently elude one, and one’s energies must be husbanded, but even so, one may often feel full of energy and life and not at all 'old.'"
Just recently (the past two or three months, I'd say), when asked how I am, I've been spontaneously responding enthusiastically with something like, “Fine, really fine," kind of surprising myself each time at how amazingly good I've been feeling day in and day out.
And if I feel this good now at 72, I can't wait for my 80s as Sacks describes his father in those years and himself on the brink of them:
"My father, who lived to 94, often said that the 80s had been one of the most enjoyable decades of his life. He felt, as I begin to feel, not a shrinking but an enlargement of mental life and perspective.
"One has had a long experience of life, not only one’s own life, but others’, too. One has seen triumphs and tragedies, booms and busts, revolutions and wars, great achievements and deep ambiguities, too.
"One has seen grand theories rise, only to be toppled by stubborn facts. One is more conscious of transience and, perhaps, of beauty.
"At 80, one can take a long view and have a vivid, lived sense of history not possible at an earlier age. I can imagine, feel in my bones, what a century is like, which I could not do when I was 40 or 60."
All true or, rather, becoming so for me even if there are days when Beckett's response makes more sense that any other I might have.
Given the number of you who sent me a link to Sacks' essay, I'm guessing you feel pretty good about your old age too. (No kidding.)
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marc Leavitt: What is July the Fourth to You and Me