As we grow older, time shrinks. I remember reading one older blogger’s complaint that his plans for his future were no longer feasible. As he grew older each year was diminished and there was no longer time to do everything he had planned to do in it. He figured that each year had so far shrunk to five months.
Sometimes, I feel like my face is right up against the future, like door where there was a doorway.
Different people grow older in very different ways. I just heard that a friend of mine died. She was ninety years old and still beautiful, her hair long, silver and thick, her skin bronzed. Her health was good up until days before her death. She had an inner poise that was remarkable. She made everyone around her calmer, happier. She was the mother of five, all of them musical, and they’d performed together growing up with her husband, a singing minister. Charlotte had played the piano. I thought of them as a movie—the Sound of Music perhaps. They’d worked for the Presbyterian Church in Mexico and she’d learned to speak Spanish. At days shy of 90 she was still teaching English as a second language to some of the growing migrant population in northern California. She deserved the peaceful death she got. If there is an afterlife, she’s aglow with it. If there is no afterlife but only a becoming one with the light, the energy, the word at the center of it all, she’s added significantly to its brightness, its strength, its depth.
But most of us don’t perspire so little as she did as we run out of time.
I know a poet-photographer-activist who’s working at a furious rate as he nears 70. He has a lot to accomplish in his shrinking years and intends to finish as much of it as possible.
Then there are other people who slow down, they begin to stroll instead of pace; they take time to taste the food, smell the flowers, listen to the music. They may be artists—or not. If they are they may be learning from old age to substitute endurance for enthusiasm, to temper ambition with artistry.
Then there is this curious description by poet, Donald Hall (from Lastingness: The Art of Old Age, by Nicholas Delbanco): “When I saw Moore (Henry) the year he turned eighty, I asked him, in a jocular manner I hope, to tell me the secret of life. Without jocularity he answered that the secret was to devote yourself entirely to one end, to one goal, and to work every day toward this goal, to put all your energy and imagination into the one endeavor. The only necessity was that this goal be unattainable.”
If the goal is unattainable perhaps there’s no reason to rush to get there, since there is no “there” there. Just do what needs to be done each day. Perhaps that is the secret of life.