My eightieth birthday was an event. We looked forward to it, many old friends as well as my family gathered to mark it, and for all of us it was an excuse to celebrate the years of our friendships. The glow of that weekend remains. Although these days it’s no longer the milestone that once it was, it felt like a sort of achievement to get to that age. We are all living longer. But the flags were out in March last year. I was surprised to have reached 80, but pleased as well. Grateful, most of all.
My 81st. birthday last month has nothing like the excitement of the 80th! It had a whimpering feel about it. There was a note of triumph at becoming 80, but now at 81 the harsh truth felt inescapable. The truth has crept up to me that I-am-an-old-man. Not entirely the result of my eighty first birthday, but I now find myself thinking when there is talk of the future, ‘if I live that long’, and indeed saying it to the dentist, the doctor and the hospital consultant. I must stop – it must be very boring to the listeners who have other things on their minds.
But at 81 I recognise that mortality now gives me its blank stare in a new and inescapable way.
Physically I’m not too bad but it’s my dozy mind that I find most difficult. It’s not just being unable to remember things, which is annoying, and with many years and experiences to look back on, failing to recall events and people is a real loss. But transferring thought into speech is sometimes a problem too, as half way through saying something I may get a mental block. It’s kind of people to fill the silence by offering the lost word, but embarrassing as well.
Conversation, discussion about important issues, listening to people’s account of themselves, has always been important to me. Now I am conscious of being in danger of losing the plot, being behind the flow.
Increasingly my concentration ebbs and I find myself withdrawing from a social milieu that normally I would be part of. Poor hearing is a contributory factor, but it is a mental fallibility too, because I am not sure whether I will be able to find the words that I want to say. I find large assemblies if not intimidating, difficult to feel at ease with. We were at the theatre the other evening and the press of people and their noise felt almost threatening.
There is a deep level of contentment in my life that these realities of ageing don’t affect, but they are real. Perhaps accepting their reality is part of the way of dealing with them.