Friday, September 26, 2008

Lost Horizons

Landscape with Cows, Ralph Blakelock. [Curiously, this painting, which I arrived at searching for cows at twilight, is owned by the Butler Art Museum in Youngstown, Ohio, a few blocks from the house I grew up in.]

Today, according to the way we figure age in the Western tradition, I turned 66, turned, as if you turned a corner and now are looking at—can it be? 70.
In my circles I am practically an authority on old age. Three years ahead of the first Baby Boomer; and aged physically and mentally by chronic kidney disease so that I feel ten years older than I am. So, what is this old age like?

I think it is not entirely unlike the old age of our mothers; you realize that the shining city that lies just over the horizon, that makes the edge glow . . . that city isn’t there. The world of opportunities, the better future. You have already experienced so many times that the marvelous job comes down to grading a huge stack of tediously conceived and written papers. That falling in love couldn't save you. That no Teacher is infallible and no book can tell you what you need to do. You have not really improved yourself much. At best, you have become more what you are.

So instead of finding yourself facing that bright horizon, strikiing out on that purposeful road, you are in this big field. It is not astroturf, but dirt, pebbles, the occasional dog doo, clumps of harsh grass. I do suppose it also has its patch of sunflowers gone to seed, and the goldfinches hanging upside down, busily having lunch.

When you are old, what is all around you is not really a horizon or an edge, just more of same. Distant mountains? The thought of climbing them is not appealing. You go to all that effort to at last stand at the summit — everyone knows that you don’t spend long there. You can see seven counties, or the next state, or Tibet. Soon you are bored. It's time to start back down. They tell you the point is not getting somewhere, but enjoying the climb. Not any more. It takes too much out of you. Fact is, you can see the same view in elegant comfort from the revolving lounge at the top of a big-city hotel. And you have. And you don’t fit your black silk dress anymore, so going to that lounge isn’t all that appealing. You’d have to find some way to dress up.

In age, what a rambling mind you have. Your cows roam in a wide field, having no special purpose to their day but to munch grass, drink water, stay alive; and at evening, as twilight descends, to follow the bell cow slowly home to the comfortable barn, where you expect to be warm and enclosed, shielded from the cold light of the stars.

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