My friend and writing teacher, Theo Nestor, author of How to sleep Alone in a King Sized Bed said to me the last time I saw her that I should write a book about old people, because I am always writing about old people. I was puzzled and shocked. But as I ran my finger across the flip file of my mind tracing the umpteen stories I wrote since beginning to write 5 years ago, I realized most of the stories were about old people. The one story about a young person was about an old flame, Bahram Najafi, who was 30 at the time. He was old both culturally, he is Iranian, and at the time spiritually, he had lost both his parents and niece and had fallen into a deep depression, which made him slow and cranky…old. I, having just turned 40 and under Saturn’s influence, living in the Old World ( I had set up camp in Cologne for a few years) was feeling “old” myself. It was a momentarily perfect fit, except that Bahram was the type of lone wolf that is not feral.
When I returned to the States after “things fell apart”, I found everyone here a bit annoying. Like being dropped into a room full of texting teenagers. I got used to it and back into being an American, whatever that means, but still wonder about this fear we have about getting old.
My parents are old now. Of course they were always “old” but now they are really old. And as much as I avoided patterning my life after theirs, as much as I resisted their lessons, especially the one about frugalness; oh, and the one about stick-to-it-tiveness, there is also a great deal I absorbed. I became them in a way. And in becoming them I realize I am becoming old, too. It is inevitable I know but my childish mind puts it’s two impudent feet down and refuses to budged. After all isn’t zen mind beginners mind? Didn’t Jesus say “Such is the Kingdom of God”? I guess he was talking about child-likeness, not childishness.
I am guessing again, when I say my fear of growing old is childish. Is it something inherent or learned? Cultural or personal? I remember when I was very young, truly a child, hearing about Second Childhood. I was not a child looking forward to being an adult. But Second Childhood, that sounded promising. To get childhood again after all you learned from adult life. Wow! I guess Second Childhood has become Alzheimer’s or Dementia in our modern parlance, like my prolifically knitting grandma would probably be told she had OCDC. I like the old terminology.
I recently called home and asked my father, who has Alzheimer’s, what he was doing. When I was growing up he was always doing something (did he have OCDC, too?). He said, in all seriousness, “I am sitting here watching the leaves grow on the apple tree?” Remember the child-like freedom of laying on your back and staring a clouds? I wouldn’t try it today there are no pictures to be seen in our nearly seamless gray sky and you’d get a face full of water. But you get my drift.
The other morning as I drove down the asphalt road through Carnation Marsh a scrawny coyote ran in front of my truck. He scurried frightened from the road, plunged into the water filled ditch. He must have been 100 years old in dog years, gray and crippled with arthritis, I could see it as he pulled himself out of the ditch nearly slipping back in. I don’t think of fear as a good motivator, but for him, then, fear worked. I felt a strange kinship with this lone coyote, I attached a part of myself to him and ran into the marsh.
I could not get the image of that old coyote out of my head until later in the week when I saw him dead on Tolt Hill road. I nearly cried, but there were caffeinated commuters behind me pressing me on and no turn-out in sight. I wanted to stop, I had to go.
In this moment, both crucial and absurd, I threw up my arms (not literally, I was driving) at the rapidity of my life, slower than most, especially the commuters behind me. The passing of time, as I flew past the coyote at a speed he could probably run as a youth, weighed heavy on me. And eventually a few tears fell.
When I got to work I yanked out summer: moldy marigolds, salvias, dahlias. Leaves fell in the sporadic gusts of wind. The summer party dresses are off the hermaphroditic garden. What is left they say are “the bones of the garden”. I find the thought rather macabre. For me the bones are the the mineral aspects the stones, the soil, the asphalt if need be. What I see in the bare trees, the hedges and shrubs is the musculature. There is something erotic in brawny trunks and the vertical posturing of conifers. The garden also looks “old” too, stripped as it were of its charms. But it is a beautiful old. Like the old coyote was beautiful, even his crippled escape seemed beautiful as I followed him into the marsh away from the work-a-day world, the bills and the chores and into the venerable soggy marsh. Not a garden at all but a graveyard of snags, impenetrable with browned grasses, bare branches, flood debris and peace.
Maybe the coyote wasn’t running out of fear but toward peace, off the asphalt into the subtle undefined world of wildness. Maybe all my running out of fear of not making ends meet or keeping up, or getting old is also more a running toward the subtle victory I think my father feels when he sits and watches the apple leaves grow.