I have been looking at my hands recently. They are not my father’s, they are my mother’s hands.
I see the pigmentation blotches, the thinning, drying suntanned skin and I am becoming aware of slowly stiffening joints.
These hands have done so much – built motor car engines, radios, played flutes and recorders, played double bass jazz, made love, changed nappies, bathed and tucked up babies, and engaged in the 10,000 things of daily life.
My hands remind me of this richness, and the vast tapestry of activity that vanishes into the past of stored memories and impressions.
To become actually old can be an interesting experience. This shifting of perceptions about oneself and of life in one’s late 60’s early 70’s. A very real sense of feeling actually old.
After 70 there seems to be an increasingly growing awareness of one’s finiteness and oncoming death. A very real sense of a sense of a steadily reducing number of years – of springs and autumns – we actually have left.
This is in contrast to feeling physically “old”. There is that too, but there seems to be additional feelings and mind states that seem to have become more noticeable in this transitional period from late middle age to old.
There is for me a growing sense of being ‘in the world but not of it’ any more. A sense of withdrawing slowly from the world and its ever increasing technological demands to a much more interior life. I notice that I am beginning to live “being” more rather than “doing”. That doesn’t mean sitting about watching TV but it is a quieter less driven and more contemplative life. We are often just as busy as we were with our various interests but there’s just less movement and more just ‘being’. A sense of longer been driven with the energy of youth.
Some of this is of course forced on us as we physically age and we lose strength and arthritis starts to make certain things more difficult or painful and sometimes, increasingly impossible. An increase in joint pain becomes more of a “back ground” sensation as we get used to it. It is just there every day. But it reminds us surely enough when we do things in the garden!
There is a very real sense of each passing year is becoming a greater percentage of the time that is left. That doesn’t necessarily mean ‘gloom and despair’ for me but rather provides an impetus to work out what I really want or need to do with the remaining time that is left. How best to do it given that some very real physical restraints which are now beginning to actually modify what I can do and what is going to be possible become an increasingly necessary series of decisions. The quiet relinquishing of things we can longer do or have now become of less or compelling interest for us to do as we once did.
In one sense we are always in a permanent change of slow deterioration and loss of things that we once just took for granted and was physically easy for us to do. It comes gradually but there seems to be a marked acceleration in the late 60 into 70’s.
Our thoughts also turn from time to time to our own demise, whenever that is, and to start preparing for that. It provides a very real ‘push’ to simplify our remaining years and to make the very most of them.
It does however seem to assist creativity and a sense of paring away excess stuff, both mentally and physically. Many creative persons often create some of their deepest and most profound works painting, writing, making or composing music in these remaining final years as their talents and knowledge somehow come together.
Mentally there is an increasing reviewing of our past life and a sifting and winnowing of all those stored experiences and to try to make some sense of it all. There seems to be so much of it as memories start to arise and come back of events and times that often remain hidden or obscured by the busyness of our previous working life.
The most that can be said about this process is that we endeavour to come to terms with all of that past history – there is just so much of it – and to make amends for some of those relationships where we can and is appropriate and to consign the rest to the past. Utterly gone and finished!
There too is a sweetness about remembering early loves and relationships, those that didn’t end in acrimony, hatred, divorce, but still warm us and gladden our memory. But there is too, a sharp reminder that we are now past our youth filled days. There is a nostalgic bittersweet feeling about those memories.
Those relationships, now, are like us, old, and dealing with their own increasing problems of early old age.
I look forward to less ‘doing’ and more ‘being’ as I become actually old and enter this final third age and stage.
The growing appreciation of the blessing of each and every day and the rightness of just being and of the little things we once glossed over or didn’t notice – the dragon fly wing in its exquisite transparency, fragile yet strong. The discarded bird feather. An autumn leaf. Good friends and great music.
For we are in the “autumn” of our life, to glow vibrantly for a while. We are just like, and as impermanent as those autumnal leaves.
Parts of this article were originally published in Aging Horizons in 2015.