Marius van Dokkum
On Turning Seventy
The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
Psalm 90:10. King James Version
I have a milestone birthday coming up, the big SEVEN-O, the biblical three score and ten, the average life expectancy for a red-blooded American male when I was a kid, a birthday so far distant that a child couldn’t take it seriously.
O, yeah, yeah pissing in my pajamas, slop drooling out of
2 young schoolboys run by—
Hey, did you see that old guy
Christ, yes, he made me sick!
Charles Bukowski – “the last days of the suicide kid”
Charles Bukowski by Drew Friedman
Cue the cinematic cliches: sand moving through an hourglass, the winds of time ripping pages from a calendar, time-lapsed growth, and decay.
Trite but true: in the wink of an eye, you transition from making out in the back seat of station wagon to being wheeled into assistant living.
But the thing is – as I keep the cliches coming – it’s hard to smell the roses when you’re changing diapers, sitting through interminable meetings, or visiting a loved one in a cancer ward.
Chances are you’re not old enough to remember Mike Douglas’s cloyingly sentimental hit “The Man in My Little Girl’s Life.”
Well, before I knew it, time had gone
My, how my little girl had grown: Then it was:
“Uh! Father! There’s a boy outside – his name is Eddie
He wants to know if we can go steady?
Can we Father? Yes Father?
Oh! can we borrow the car Pop?”
Yes, it seems like only yesterday
I heard my lovely daughter say:
“Dad! There’s a boy outside – his name is Jim
He asked me if I’d marry him?
I said yes, Dad! – Got something in your eye – Dad?
I love him, Dad.”
A child, an adolescent, a young lady, a wife
Oh! and oh yes, Heh! Heh!
There’s another man in my little girl’s life
“Hi Dad! There’s a boy outside – his name is Tim
I told him Grandpa was gonna baby sit with him
Thanks Dad. Bless you Dad. Goodnight, Dad.”
Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.
Wise old men and women no doubt take Cicero’s De Senectute to heart, or rather, to head. Cicero wrote it in this sixty-third year and argues that the longer perspective that old age provides is rich compensation for the lost pleasures of youth, that “each stage of existence has been allotted its own appropriate quality; so that the weakness of childhood, the impetuosity of youth, the seriousness of middle life, the maturity of old age — each bears some of Nature’s fruit, which must be garnered in its own season.”
Whistling past the graveyard, he offers this:
[T]he fact that old age feels little longing for sensual pleasures not only is no cause for reproach, but rather is ground for the highest praise. Old age lacks the heavy banquet, the loaded table, and the oft-filled cup; therefore, it also lacks drunkenness, indigestion, and loss of sleep. But if some concession must be made to pleasure, since her allurements are difficult to resist, … then I admit that old age, though it lacks immoderate banquets, may find delight in temperate repasts.
Yeats, who, on the other hand, cast a jaundiced eye on old age, who bemoaned it as “an absurdity” that had been “tied to [him] as to a dog’s tail,” nevertheless acknowledged that through art one could vicariously hold on to youth by studying “monuments of unageing intellect.”
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence,
WB Yeats, “Sailing to Byzantium”
Hey, it’s the week after Thanksgiving, and I am grateful for so many things, my old age being one of them. The romantic notion of living fast, dying young, and leaving a beautiful corpse is patently absurd. Adrenaline rushes are fun, but near fatal auto crashes aren’t (and I’ve lived through one). Plus, there’s no such thing as a beautiful corpse. Sure, nowadays, I’m not much to look at, my auburn locks have given way to a freckled scalp, my once lithe frame gone paunchy, and my ability to remember names a semi-serious social liability; however, at the moment, I enjoy good health, a harmonious homelife, successful sons, a thriving grandson, and a remarkably wise and kind thirteen-year-old stepdaughter. I enjoy reading, writing, listening to music, hanging with Caroline, and holding court at Chico Feo.
No doubt my good health will not last, but I would like to think I won’t end up like Philip Larkin’s old fools, “crouching below/ Extinction’s alp,” suffering through “a hideous, inverted childhood.”
As Caroline says, “we can hope; we can dream.”
And, hey, if you’re on Folly 10 December 2022, come have a drink with me after the Xmas parade at Chico Feo while I’m still among the quick, because, to quote Ulysses from Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida:
Time hath, my lord,
A wallet at his back, wherein he puts
Alms for oblivion.
The old me circa 1978
the new me 2021