William Shakespeare wrote in the Merchant of Venice….. ‘All that glitters is not gold’.
I guess I should have paid more attention to Shakespeare’s cautionary remarks when I was reading the classics at school, as I have lived most of my life, more than three score and ten years of it, believing that my retirement was to take place when I was fifty-five and then I would enter a sublime time of my life called ‘The Golden Years’ that were my entitlement and my reward.
Through irresponsible scuttlebutt, deceitful Government promises, and some wishful speculation, I came to believe that I would be able to travel, take cruises, visit family and grandchildren, play golf and tennis, sleep late if I chose to do so, and generally live the wonderful life I had worked so hard to earn during my working lifetime.
Illnesses and physical limitations were not a part of my imagined vision of the future; after all, I was an athlete, a competitive swimmer, a rugby player, and I was as fit as the proverbial fiddle. Nightly, for years, before showering and retiring to bed, I would go for a 3-mile run and do some push-ups – keeping fit and in shape was all so natural and so easy. I had the body of a god – Zeus, Ajax, Apollo, Thor, eat your hearts out!
But, somewhere along my life’s journey things became discombobulated. Things whose names previously belonged solely in medical journals became a part of my life – a part that I could neither ignore nor could I make disappear. Arthritis, atrial fibrillation, COPD, stents in the arteries, sleep apnea, oxygen deficiency, Coumadin, hip replacement, knee surgery, bariatric surgery, all formed a rapid succession of unwanted and unlovely invasive events that served to shape, and subsequently control, my life.
At first the gold of my dreams developed a bloom, then it tarnished, then it discolored, and finally, through some mystery of alchemy, it turned into base metal of an uglier and less valuable kind. I am told I still have the body of a god – but unfortunately, the name of ‘Buddha’ comes to mind far too readily!
Now don’t get me wrong; I am not a negative person. I am not depressed or down-hearted nor do I feel that Life has dealt me a bad hand. My present health condition and my lovely rotund shape, do not cause me undue concern or regret. I am, as strange as it may seem, enjoying my retirement and obtaining satisfaction from things that I would never in a thousand years have believed I would do when I was younger.
My wife of some 52 years is a treasure – she is, and always has been, everything to me. My son and daughter are wonderful loving people who have in turn married wonderful, loving spouses, and my two teenage grandsons are the icing on my seventy-year-old life-cake. My life is calm, measured, and satisfying – admittedly without great excitement or adventure, but enormously pleasant none the less ……. with a few small exceptions.
When reading books years ago, I would hear a character described as being ‘old’ and it later transpired that he or she was ‘in their sixties’, but I had no conflict with the author’s choice of adjective. Agatha Christie, for example, frequently referred to senior characters in her mystery novels as being ‘old’ when they were in their sixties, but this hit no note of discord in my brain – it seemed to me to be fair and reasonable comment. But now if I re-read one of Miss Christie’s novels and hear Miss Marple described as ‘an old pussy’ when we all know she was in her middle sixties, makes me want to write to the author and inform her (yes, I know she is deceased) that from my standpoint, mid-sixties is barely past middle age.
I do dislike visiting the doctor (or ‘doctors’ plural, in my case); not because of what he/she/they might do or say, but because it means sharing a waiting room with a group of old fossils. Not one patient seems to be under the age of 75 and they all walk (shuffle?) with the aid of a cane or walking stick. It was even more aggravating the last time I visited when I forgot my cane and had to return to the Doctor’s office to retrieve it.
I also object to the hiring policies that are in place for what I will generally call “authority figures”. Why are the respective hiring departments employing mere children who are several decades younger than I to fill positions that were always occupied by mature persons of impressive character and authoritative demeanor? School teachers, police officers, priests & pastors, bank managers, doctors, lawyers, all seem to have entered their profession straight out of middle school. I believe that they all must have got there because they knew someone.
Technology is another deceptive pitfall waiting to make fools of elderly folk. Something as simple as a portable telephone now requires several advanced degrees in order to operate it effectively. For instance, the language required just to purchase one of these so-called ‘smart phones’ is as alien to me, and I suspect, my entire generation, as the Klingon grunt-speak.
The idea that a telephone is also a video camera, calculator, radio, dictionary, global positioning locator, timepiece, computer, thermometer, an email communicator, and a complete internet search engine, does nothing to allay my fear of the danger of my pressing the wrong digits or buttons, and perhaps blowing up a low-flying commercial airplane. Communicating, aka ‘texting’, on these infernal devices employs a coded language known only to teenagers or drunken extra galactic visitors.
But, all things considered, it is the small, simple things that give me most pleasure. Sadly, gone are my days of riding motorcycles, skydiving, scuba diving, practicing judo and karate, playing rugby, and walking for miles across meadows and mountain passes. These activities, and others, have been replaced by stroking my dogs, reading a good book, putting the finishing touches to a painting and feeling good about the result, watching the fireflies dance and sparkle on a summer’s night, or listening to Chopin, The Beatles, Willie Nelson, Louise Armstrong, or Frankie Laine, while enjoying a very dry martini.
Of course, spending time with my wife and family is still wonderful and gives me much pleasure, and watching the farm animals, in our case, alpacas, go about their daily business, relaxes me and helps me to wind down.
So, what is the true name for this period in our lives? If it’s not ‘The Golden Years’, could it more properly be called ‘The Murky Years’, or ‘Slumber Time’, ‘The End Zone’, or even, and perhaps more appropriately and without bias, “The Later Years”?