Thursday, 26 August 2010

On sitting in judgment

I read a blog post the other day that saddened me. The author is a highly intelligent person whose writing style is impeccable. She is an eclectic thinker and writer, and I like the way she pulls ideas together and reflects on life.

But whenever she writes about mothers her writing deteriorates into what seems to be loathing for her own mother. The tone becomes ugly, the perspective distorted. I can almost imagine her face twisting as she writes. And yet when I have read what she has actually written about her childhood, she seems to have been raised by a hardworking woman who did her best. Maybe I am missing something.

This skewed perception also comes through when she writes about old people generally, but I recognize this as  typical of young people who have not yet experienced the infirmity of aging. In fact I remember my own smugness and squirm.

When I was younger and had all my faculties and strength, I too sneered at the incompetence of teachers on the cusp of retirement, at the stale smells of older women who used public toilets ahead of me, at the even staler anecdotes told by old people who were remembering the years when they were competent, attractive and sometimes powerful or sexy, stories that showed them in a good light.

I too vowed never to become old in the ways they had.

But the reality is that we do. All of us. Even those of us who are intelligent, beautiful and powerful.

Infirmities of various kinds begin to take over.   Incontinence becomes chronic, and hormones dissolve leaving women decidedly unsexy, and men weaker and less virile.

There comes a day when most of us are not getting enough sleep, when it becomes harder to leap straight from bed to  shower, and when we do get up we sometimes forget one or more of the daily routines.

Sometimes it is the blood pressure pills.  Other times it is the shower.

It isn't often breakfast.

We reach a stage when we know that we are invisible  and we don't have anywhere important to go, anyway, so we don’t worry as much about appearance.  Does it really matter  whether our hair style is actually a style?  Somehow it seems less important to spend money on the impossible task of making ourselves attractive.

First we lose the youthful energy, and then the confidence that comes with it, so we are no longer as good at what we do (or did) for a living. Our minds are no longer as elastic as they once were, and our synapses begin to fray and snap.

Our short term memories deteriorate, leaving us with the longer term memories of better times.

So, yes, our conversations often take the form of truncated wisps of thought, meandering threads of back story, and remembered glory days.

It isn’t terribly attractive, but the alternative is worse, so unless dying at fifty is a choice we make, we will all get older ... and most of us will also become poorer at the same time.

The other day I met a lovely older woman who was missing two front teeth. My own father died with a gap in the front of his mouth. They probably both made their decisions to forego dental work based at least partly on the expense involved. I need $1500 worth of dental work myself, and I am having a tough time making the decision to go into debt for a partial plate I expect to hate wearing, especially since I am at that invisible age anyway.  Will Kenya really care whether I have a mouth full of teeth or whether I am nicely dressed and coiffed?

I have read posts recently in which young people have mentioned with some disdain that old Ontarians pay very little for their prescriptions. I sure wish I were an old Ontarian instead of an old Quebecer. Us old folks need more prescriptions than those younger folks. And those young folks are going to be old one day themselves. Bet then they’ll be glad that they are being given a break on prescription drugs!

And I bet that old Ontario woman with the missing teeth wishes she had a dental plan that would help her out.

Sorry about the lapses in grammar here ... just realized I was beginning to sound like a toothless old woman.

At any rate, income level does matter to the old. It helps determine whether they will try to keep themselves attractive.

Every time I step on a scale I remember feeling superior to my seventyish grandmother who weighed then what I do now. Every time I catch a whiff of urine, morning breath, or stale sweat, I squirm, thinking about my youthful distaste for the smell of old age. Every time I find myself telling a stale tale of long ago and see the boredom, or in one case, the distaste that spread over the face of someone who once loved me, I close my mouth and wish that it were either twenty years earlier or later than it is right now.

I love some things about aging. I am more reflective than I ever was as a young person. I am becoming more empathetic. I am also more courageous in some ways, more willing to take chances, less afraid of making a fool of myself.

But I am also heavier, weaker, more tired, and less mentally agile than I would like to be.

Yesterday I met a legally blind man who wears an insulin injecting device. He is active in three organizations which attempt to educate people about blindness and disabilities generally. His work spills over to concerns about poverty and the health system and to political action. He is almost ten years younger than I am, and still has most of his marbles, but he has far less freedom and mobility than I have.

He told me about an annual dinner that one of his associations puts on for business people called "Dinner in the Dark".   When people arrive they are blindfolded, seated, and served dinner. They are told where things are located on the table and on their plates, and then they eat blindly. Most people, as they grapple with knives and forks and food they cannot see, begin to understand blindness.

Maybe the young need to be given opportunities to experience the diminution that occurs in aging before they will be able to understand.

And most of them will.


Barbara Carlson said...

Well put.
Decades ago a youngish friend said she will never feel superior to anyone with a disability after she was in a horrible car accident which left her with a reconstructed different face & limp. "But careful what you mock," she said. "or Karma will have its way with you."

hybrasil said...

All true, alas. And no prescription, no miracle cure for it.