How do you know when you’ve become a geezer? In common with many of my contemporaries, I did my best to avoid that melancholy fate. You’re only as old as you feel, right? Stay thin, fit and healthy, and you’re fine, right? Don’t let your hair fall out, work out every day and go out every night!
That’s fine, but once you reach 70 you’re a geezer. And 80? You’ve gone from geezerdom to the inescapable reality of old age. Say goodbye to perfect vision, hearing, knees, hips, cognition, coordination and memory. Nothing works particularly well, nothing looks very good (what happened to the rippling abs of yesteryear?). Forget gossiping about your friends and contemporaries — you read their obituaries. If you’re a couple of months from 81, you’re a 1940 Ford with all original parts. Don’t expect too much from the old clunker!
As time goes by, you either adapt and thrive or fall into reflective self-pity. I’m delighted to be alive, reasonably functional and engaged with our community. It’s actually great to be released from ambition, competition, regret and fear of dying young. Absent those drivers, what do you do with the rest of your life?
Tip #1: You don’t have to do a damned thing. There are no more mountains you have to climb, books you have to write, fitness levels you must attain, networking events you can’t miss, powerful people you have to meet or breakfast meetings you have to suffer through. You’re free.
Tip #2: If you sit around doing nothing you’ll wither like an unwatered, drought-stricken Colorado garden. And remember: staring at your phone and making snarky political posts is a particularly toxic version of doing nothing.
So here’s some wisdom from those who preceded us. John Greenleaf Whittier’s 1865 Snow-Bound is an elegiac poem dedicated to the memory of his family. It’s joyful, beautiful and tinged with sorrow, as Whittier introduces us to the men, women and children in a rural Massachusetts farmhouse during the early 19th century as a winter storm closes the roads. It’s a meditation upon life, love, death and faith, as well as a clarion call for the end of slavery. Published in February 1866, it sold 7,000 copies in the first day. Nowadays it’s forgotten — who has the time to read carefully crafted long-form 19th century poems? We geezers! Here’s an excerpt.
O Time and Change! -- with hair as gray
As was my sire’s that winter day,
How strange it seems with so much gone,
Of life and love, to still live on!
Ah, brother! only I and thou
Are left of all that circle now, --
The dear home faces whereupon
That fitful firelight paled and shone.
Henceforward, listen as we will,
The voices of that hearth are still;
Look where we may, the wide earth o’er,
Those lighted faces smile no more.
We tread the paths their feet have worn,
We sit beneath their orchard trees,
We hear, like them, the hum of bees
And rustle of the bladed corn;
We turn the pages that they read,
Their written words we linger o’er.
But in the sun they cast no shade,
No voice is heard, no sign is made.
You can buy a reprint online for a few bucks. Or if reading long-forgotten poems isn’t your thing, follow the advice of Colorado Springs pioneer Frances Wolcott who wrote a lengthy autobiography in 1932 — at 80! From the prologue:
“If there be but two passions that survive old age — gambling and gardening — the first I have never tasted, but the making of gardens still has a beckoning hand. It has the cult of beauty, the mystery of birth, growth, sleep, death and resurrection, a place of hopes and a place of graves.”
As a periodically lucky gambler and a lousy gardener, I’m going to follow Frances’ advice and do some serious gardening. Bulbs, perennials, iris, sunflowers, columbine, hollyhocks and lots of flashy annuals — especially zinnias! And of course I’ll jump in the T-Bird from time to time and head for Cripple Creek with my pal Jimmie B. — especially if the geezer in the White House does the rest of us geezers a solid and increases Social Security payments by a few bucks.
Modest plans indeed, but easy enough to realize … if I can stick around for another year!