I once wrote on Facebook, “I don’t know how to act my age; I’ve never been this old before.” My North Carolinian sister, Betty Starling, commented: “Make it up as you go; just don’t fall!”
I’ve made it up as I went through the several stages if my life: child, preteen, teen, young man, middle-aged man. I had to make it up as I went because there are no rehearsals for any of them. I must have done each pretty well because, as I look back, I seem to have enjoyed them all.
If I had known as a teenager what I now know, my life would have been quite different. Thank heavens my imagination survived my heart attack and stroke. I now have the time to ride it through all the tracks that my life might have taken had I known as much then as I do know. I can’t say that any of them would have ended any better than the one I chose.
I am currently finding my way to enjoying the last stage, despite the fact that most of my relatives and old friends have either passed away, or are diminished to using canes or walkers, hearing aids, are on chemo.
These people and the places around me were the orientational guideposts of my life. I learned from them, created my own being from bits and pieces of them. Now, an ever-growing number of them are just memories. So, I really don’t know where I come from, which adds to the disorientation. When the disorientation gets too heavy, I can watch a movie or two on the Hallmark channel with my wife.
Yet here I am, worrying these days about who will attend my funeral as my world melts away around me. I try to make friends younger than me to replace those I have lost and am losing almost weekly.
I must admit that in retirement, I have more time to enjoy beautiful days, sumptuous meals, deep conversations, good books, catching up with the movies my wife and I have missed or enjoyed so much we want to see them again. Retirement is an eternal weekend.
I’ve lived a life based on the principle, “Never look back.” I have extended that now, to “Never look back until you retire.” Now that I have less to look forward to, my best alternative is to look back over the events of my life. Fortunately, I took a plethora of slides and photos along the way to help me recall them.
My conversations now range over memories of the past: relatives, friends, travels, accomplishments, failures. I can explore all these things at my leisure today. They remind me of all the adventures and relationships of the past.
I do keep up with current political and economic events and technological innovations of the 21st millennium. I am very happy to be surviving the politics of 2020s, not only experiencing them, but playing some small role in them.
The technological advances keep me in touch with my two sons and four grandchildren in Colorado. We connect by telephone, texting, social media. Not nearly as good as being together, but better than no contact at all.
I approached old age believing that a life well lived is one that ends in a lot of stories to tell your grandchildren. I have now done that with a lifetime filled with adventures around the world with my wife, the key to my life, Helen Faye. I would like more time with the grandkids. I have convinced myself that I’ve made the best of it, given what I knew at each of the several stages of my life.
Robert Beard is professor emeritus, Linguistics & Russian studies programs at Bucknell University.