The writer and mystic Joseph Campbell is a guide to getting older for me. Campbell wrote that we must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned, so that we may have the life that is waiting for us.
The young believe that growing older is about being old, but the older you get, the more you see that each of us is getting older all of the time, every hour of every day, from the day we were born. We are all getting older every minute. And getting older is, in fact, so much about letting go of the life we wanted and expected, and living the life we have.
Living with Fate is a lesson in perspective, she is all about the joy and energy of being young, when I go out into the pasture and see her rocketing around with such glee and drive, I am reminded of being old, 68 years older than she is, as if I am trapped in a slow-mo Iphone video. Her manic passion is infectious, but it is also humbling. She goes 100 yards for every one or two I walk, and her feet never seem to hurt.
I was listening to the radio in the car the other day, and there was yet another slick how-to-live-happy book-peddling doctor on talking about “wellness,” and how difficult it was to get older, how the challenge of being older was to understand that quality of life diminishes, that our body and libido fail, our spirits sag along with our muscles, we are prone to chronic diseases. It is very difficult to be happy when you are old, he says.
I turned the radio off and watched some crows sitting on telephone wires instead.
I am familiar with the tone and language of these best-selling doctors, they are often glib, soothing and slightly sorrowful to be spreading the sad news about aging and being healthy. And they are, to a one, patronizing.
The young do not buy books from doctors, of course, because they are generally healthy and do not believe they will ever die, They are presumed to have better quality of life than older people, although the good young people that I know are stressed out of their socks by the expectations, dramas, pressures and conflicts of life in America.
A young man speaking to CNN online lost his job, home, dog and best friend to a savage wildfire in California this week, he barely escaped with his life, and when he was asked how he felt about it, he said, “well, I’ve lost everything, really, and the worst thing is that I have a credit card payment due on Monday, and I can’t imagine how I will pay it.”
That struck me as more painful even than the soft-talking doctor (why do they all sound like Mr. Rogers?), the idea that with all of that loss, this young man was most worried about his credit card payment. That is a rough and cold way to live, I wish he could let go of the idea that money and credit cards payments are everything, but you can’t blame him, it is all around him. Perhaps now, he can let go of that life.
Karl Marx said that capitalism was all creating a world where we only need about 10 per cent of the things we are manipulated into buying and made to believe we need. In my life, I have seen that this is often the truth. I don’t have any credit cards now, I do not miss them. I let go of many of the ideas I had about what I needed, and I find I do not need most of the things I had.
I don’t really think quality of life is always good for the young or always good for the old. My libido is a lot better now than it was 30 years ago, and I have two chronic diseases – diabetes and heart disease. I do not recall ever being happier, more productive or more engaged in the world.
I can’t generalize about people, it is not one thing to be young, it is not one thing to be old. I do not understand how any active mind can join the “left” or the “right,” I don’t care to be labeled.
Is it really easier to be old?
Many of the college kids out West are lining up to cheer Donald Trump, and I can only imagine how alienated and confused they must be flock to such an angry and bewildered leader. For me, the only thing worse than listening to Trump would be liking what I was hearing.
And all this in the country founded by the brilliant minds of Jefferson and Paine and Adams, the inventors of an open and enlightened society. I hope they are not, in fact, looking down on us, I can almost hear the gnashing of Washington’s wooden false teeth. What, he might wonder, did I freeze for through all of those winters?
When it comes down to it for me, I think Campbell had it right. I am learning to let go of the life I imagined, coveted, even had. My life of six months ago is gone, so is my life of last week, let alone the life of my young dreams. But a rich life is waiting for me, every single day, filled with love, friendships, lessons, challenges, new hopes. And sore limbs.
Working with Fate is inspiring for me, because we represent the opposite ends of the biological spectrum, she at the beginning of life, me towards the end. I have let go of moving that fast, of possessing that much energy, or even that much joy. It is tiring just to look at her.
A friend once told me that when you are over 50, you wake up each morning and something hurts. That is true. But that is one part of life, it is not life. I do not gauge my life by ailments and pills and chronic diseases, I am neither depressed nor gloomy about where I am, I do not talk about my health much, it bores the socks off of me. I am better at being older than being young. I have no desire to live forever and will not be shocked when my time comes.
But I have the most wonderful quality of life that one could have, I learn something precious every day, am loved and love every day, I teach and I learn every day, and the creative spark burns very brightly within me. Every day I let go of the life that I planned, and I live the life that a waits me as fully and openly as I possibly can.