Saturday, May 07, 2005

Ageing

With two sets of parents myself, plus Mary's parents, we are watching six individuals reach certain numerical turning-points. My father just turned 75, as I recently remarked. With my mother and step-father both over 70, this leaves Mary's two parents and my step-mother still ensconced in their sixties. Mary and I are ageing as well---we are 45 and 40, respectively---and a number of our friends are now in their late fifties and early sixties, becoming grandparents themselves. During the next two months, our son graduates from photography school, moves in with his girlfriend, and then turns 22. In June, we will also attend the wedding of our son's oldest friend, a young man of 24 whom we have known since he was in the fourth grade. He's a father and step-father now, and this passage of time is mind-blowing.

Whenever I see a college friend of mine who is an artist in New York City, we will often reminisce about our days in art school in the early 80's when we were in our late teens and early twenties in Philadelphia, staying up all night to make lithographs, eating eggs and toast at an all-night diner at 4am, slumping into class at 8, drugged on caffeine and lack of sleep. In some ways, it seems like yesterday.

Last summer, I turned 40, and I welcomed the notion that the first half of my life had more or less ended, the second half (statistically) now beginning in earnest. During that first half, the transitory nature of life never really seemed to hold any weight, the illusory idea of having "all the time in the world" holding sway. Retirement, old age, disability, grandchildren, the effects of ageing---none of this seemed to resonate, perhaps only in a distant and abstract way.

In my previous work as a visiting nurse, I had more opportunity to work closely with elders. Currently, my patients tend to be under 65, with only one over that magic number (who, in fact, I see as a free-care patient since we're not contracted to care for anyone who is Medicare-eligible). Thus, there is a personal feeling growing vis-a-vis the ageing process, since the elders I encounter in my work-life are fewer and farther between, my parents taking center-stage in my personal cosmological array. And when one contemplates the ageing and eventual death of one's parents, the more direct contemplation of one's own demise also enters the fray.

Mark Twain once famously said, "Reports of my demise are greatly exagerrated." I couldn't agree more, but I can also agree that my demise is now closer than further, and its reality is one which I can honestly embrace with relative equanimity. Death is not a fearful entity for me. It is neither something I fear nor something I relish the thought of. It is simply an inevitable passageway through which I will some day walk, only to then finally be enlightened as to the larger questions which go so woefully unanswered here on earth. The deaths of those close to me are more cause for concern, yet those events are also to be expected, along with the grieving that they will entail. While the death of the young is tragic (and feared---see my link to Justice for Woody), the natural death of the elderly holds a sense that, when a human is allowed to avoid all accidents and trauma, ageing and death will eventually assume their inimitable hold and waltz that soul on to its next incarnation. While I wish long and productive lives to all my friends and brethren (and myself), I also bow to the greater supernatural will that supercedes our own human desires for longevity.

I will continue to embrace my own ageing gracefully, as well as that of those around me. May we all be blessed with the ability to make our exit in peace and tranquility, free of undue suffering and trauma. May it be so.
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