There is no way to prepare for “this day,” the day that arrives after weeks of declining health, when other than love there”s nothing you can do except keep your pet comforable until the end.
We’ve been down this road before with four earlier cats, Needles, BK, OK, and Duncan. Now Marlo is ill and fading fast. Along with Katy and Duncan, she came into our lives (was adopted from a vet) in 2002. She’s had incurable cancer for the last six months or so and goes hour to hour now on what can be described, I guess, as home hospice care.
We still call Marlo and Katy “the kitties.” They know us well, which means they know what they can get away with and that we still care for them when they get away with it. This is the third house they’ve lived in with us. They know where all the hidey holes are–and so do we. They hate moving and then dislike getting uused to new places. But then within weeks, it’s as though they’ve always lived wherever we’re living at the moment.
I always dread the sadness and helplessness of “this day.” I know I will never be the same again. And yet, it’s worth all the companionship and love that precedes it. The kitties seem more accepting of it than we are. Right now, Marlo is asleep behind the wastebacket here in my office. We have water here for her and she drinks a lot of it. She hasn’t eaten for a few days: not interested in that.
d wrld iz moving fst. d old ways R 4gottn. d nu ways R untested. wot do U do now?
Perhaps the first time an ancient person discovers s/he no longer fits well into the world is when he must ask his or her 5th-grade grandson or granddaughter how to set up and configure the new computer or cell phone.
Perhaps the ancient person sees how out of touch s/he is when confronted with a list of recent songs, singers, and movies and realizes s/he has never heard of any of them.
Or, perhaps–and this is heavy stuff–the discovery that one is becoming irrelevant at the speed of light occurs when an old man or an old woman discovers that most of what passes for urgent and interesting these days just doesn’t matter.
Prospective lack of relevance is often brought home to an aging writer when s/he looks at a book marketing guru’s list of hot topics for prospective bestselling books and realizes s/he has never heard of them or doesn’t understand why they are hot. The aging writer often looks at the names of purportedly relevant writers who–according to essays in writers’ magazines–are doing important work and/or who are part of the prestigious faculty for MFA writing programs and asks, “Who are these people?”
Those of us who were brought up as children of the 60s or who were conditioned to believe each person has within them all the skills and knowledge to become the very best they can be are now wondering “what the hell happened.” We were in those days fighting “the establishment” which could be variously translated as the military/industrial complex or the “we’ve always done it this way” line of thought. So, our own particular kind of brainwashing led us to believe that one way or another we would make a difference and be part of our generation’s wont to be a catalyst for change. And yet, the world continues to face the same problems and so do we.
And lately–from the point of view of an ancient person–many of the solutions to the old problems now seem worse than the problems. Those on both sides of the political divide seem to have lost their minds.
I wonder if it was always an arrogant goal to think one–or even his/her generation–would ever be relevant other than on some statistician’s spreadsheet about attitudes from one decade to the next when it came to either changing the world for the better or changing himself/herself in transcendent ways that explained “the big picture.” Yes, maybe the children of the 1960s were full of themselves. Unfortunately, according to studies, a lot of them told out and ultimately joined “the establishment” and began to look more and more like the people they were protesting against when they were young.
I’ve read that youth tends to feel immortal and old people tend to feel like they could have been contenders if they hadn’t taken the wrong path or fallen in with the wrong people or the wrong ideas. If you’re over 70, does that idea strike a chord?
Some say that every time a person takes a positive step, the world becomes slightly better even though the changes aren’t earthshaking or noticeable. Maybe that’s the best we can hope for. Maybe relevance is simply pride and ego and nothing else. Maybe each of us has carried a small nugget of relevance within ourseves for a lifetime and hasn’t been aware of the bits and pieces of good we have done.
If you came here today expecting wisdom or anything approaching sage advice, you’re screwed.
For one thing, I don’t think you came here for that reason because, as we were saying during the Vietnam War, you can’t trust anyone over 30. Today, our youth culture still maintains this truth, adding to it the idea that it’s completely unnecessary to know anything about what happened over 30 years ago.
I’m amused by people half my age who explain things to me that I knew before they were born. I think my parents were amused by this when I told them stuff I learned in college. Some of what I told them they experienced first hand–like World War I and the depression.
For those of you under 30, World War I happened before World War II, though with today’s math instruction in the schools, that probably doesn’t make sense. And, the depression wasn’t the kind one tried to escape with Valium or Xanax.
Quite possibly, I have a long list of things about which I can say, “been there, done that, got the tee shirt.” Unfortunately, more and more people haven’t heard of any of those things even if they do have the tee shirts.
One of those things is walking or riding my bike to school. That doesn’t seem to be done anymore. In fact, it appears to be borderline illegal. I’m reading this novel right now in which a single mother wonders how so many parents can attend–by her calculation–some 30+ hours a week of school related activities: plays, talent shows, recitals, togetherness sessions all of which occur during working hours. If you don’t show up, the parents that do show up pity you and think you’re rearing* your children wrong. They think that, too, if they see your kid riding or walking to school.
I work at home as a quasi retired, borderline crazy writer. That means I can log on to Facebook and Twitter any time I want. When I’m there, one thought is this: what the hell are all these other people doing out here during working hours? I know, I know, since corporations and other employers are borderline criminal, it’s okay to steal time from them by texting and looking at Facebook. Or, maybe their employers think it’s okay and have hired extra staff to cover the time when the current staff is online. That sounds like something that would happen in France.
I guess it comes down to this, my thoughts on getting older probably sound like the same kinds of thoughts by parents and grandparents had when they were getting older, and that boils down to you kids have it easy, hell, my generation had to claw its 20 miles to school on snowshoes. Most of you didn’t know my parents and grandparents, so maybe this snow information is something new.
See what I mean? You’re screwed (figuratively speaking, hopefully) for reading this post.
“Tall and agile at 97, with a neatly trimmed gray beard and oval tortoise shell glasses that magnified his glassy blue eyes, Mr. Ferlinghetti could pass for a man in his 70s. He still writes almost every day — ‘When an idea springs airborne into my head.’”
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, whose poems I feel like I’ve been reading for several lifetimes, is polishing up a memoir/novel after years of badgering by his 96-year-old literary agent Sterling Lord. Their ages give me hope.
Hope. because it’s nice to live that long. It’s nice to still have words and a voice at that age and keep on writing. It’s nice to see that it’s possible to have a friend and colleague you’ve known since the beat-poet era of the 1950s. It’s nice and its hopeful to think that when one has a lot of ideas s/he wants to put into writing, it just might be possible to do it.
Not that I think I can equal Ferlinghetti’s 50 volumes of poetry by writing 50 novels. I’m realistic. Unlike Stephen King, who writes most of his novels in a couple of months,
I’m a lot slower. Ferlinghetti is, like Herman Wouk, (now 101) in that group of writers about whom people say, “Gosh, I thought he probably died years ago.” I don’t know how Ferlinghetti, Lord and Wouk react to those sentiments.
Doesn’t matter, really. It’s nice to know that if they ever hear people say that, they’re still around to say “I’m not only alive and kicking, I’m also alive and writing.” (There’s an interesting Herman Would article here.)
Writing, I think, is one of those occupations that not only keeps people alive and kicking, it wards off the morbid maybe I should cash in my chips feelings a lot of people seem to get when they become senior citizens. Fortunately, writing doesn’t require heavy lifting or many other kinds of physical stamina that are usually gone by the time people each 96, 97 and 101. In fact, reading and writing are said to help develop people’s brains and minds when they’re young and keep brains and minds more facile and creative when they’re old.
What’s not to like?
Perhaps some of us will say everything we want to say before we’re old and grey. We’ll spend our years traveling. Tending our bees or our roses. Reading as much as we can. Enjoying family and friends and everything else with agile minds (due to the reading).
It’s hard to imagine not writing, even if we write only for ourselves and stash all those poems, novels and essays into basement file cabinets. When I was young, I once visited my 100-year-old aunt who not only remembered dozens of stories from crossing the country in a covered wagon, but also knew everything about current day books, politics and culture. I wondered how it felt to be 100. Mainly, I wondered if I’d be a totally different person. I’m not a hundred, but as the years pass, my greatest surprise has been that age doesn’t change who one basically is–yes, we might have put away many of the thoughts and hobbies of youth, but still, we begin our days with hopes, many of which are similar to the hope felt when we were kids and beginning our first jobs and seeing our children born.
The writing gets better with age. Mostly, that’s just practice and experience. If you write for 60 years, you’re bound to get better. Most writers look forward to getting better even if they have great success when they’re young. We want to get better because no matter how well a book or a poem turns out, we see that it never quite matches the dreams we had for it when we wrote the first draft.
Like opera singers, we may lose some of the raw, unbridled power of our youth. There’s always more to be said, though. The fates are kind to give us time to say it.