when I get older, losing my hair,
many years from now....
At 15 I could not conceive of being 64. I had worked out that I would be 48 at the turn of the Millennium and was greatly disappointed by that prospect, in that I would be far too old to enjoy all of the amazing wonders (flying cars, space travel, ray guns) that the Twenty First century was bound to bring. And today it's here. My 64th birthday. I looked in the mirror when I took my shower and a sort of bristly, balding, scarred, heavy old man looked back. And was mighty pleased to do so. If it wasn't for advances in medical care which have happened pretty much in my life time, septicaemia would have killed me in 2000, or, failing that, prostate cancer in 2009.
I looked in the mirror and saw my own mortality. We, all of us follow a sort of bell curve in our existence. We are born into the world and steadily increase our presence - bodily, psychologically, spiritually - in the world until we reach a peak of absolute presence, whereupon we almost immediately begin to decrease. Our bodies slow and fail, and we lose some of our mental acuity on a gentle downward curve which carries us to the goal which waits for us all: non existence. On each part of that parabolic trajectory there are tasks for us to do and desires and drives which are peculiar to that stage of life. At 64 I am a fair way down the right hand side of the bell curve, and a great number of the tasks of earlier stages have either been accomplished or given up as a bad job. The needs and desires I once had no longer seem quite so urgent.
I think this pattern is universal, inevitable and undeniable, but many in our culture seem to disagree with me. We seem, in the European West anyway, to be fixated on the early, uphill stages of the curve. The way bodies look in their 20s or 30s sets a normative pattern, and we define living by the possessing and meeting of the desires characteristic of that age: meeting and finding a mate, reproducing, becoming powerfully proficient in our careers. This stuckness in the uphill part of the bell curve is a symptom of our unwillingness to face our mortality, and a consequent reluctance to embrace not only the losses of aging, but the gifts of aging as well.
Because this is a gifted time.
Every summer we can take a cottage
in the Isle of Wight (if it's not too dear)
we shall scrimp and save;
grandchildren on your knee,
Vera, Chuck and Dave...
I no longer turn the heads of young women as I walk down the street, but I am a grandfather, and that is infinitely better. I can't jump a fence any more, but I know what it is to sit and be. I forget stuff, but I also wake at 3 in the morning and glimpse the connection between Incarnation and Trinity, between desire and surrender. I know that I will die, and I am quietly excited and curious about the prospect. I know that today I am alive and that the world is wonderfully, elegantly beautiful.
I shower. The companion of my youth, who has aged in parallel with me, waits with a basket of presents and we have a ribald, gut splittingly funny conversation. And the stereo plays, synchronously, as it is wont to do, another, better song about mortality and the gifts it holds.