The Joy of Senility
I am dealing with old age because it is smacking me in the face like a wet dishrag. But I have choices: I can ignore it, pretend it has not arrived, or I can get better acquainted with it, like becoming intimate with some repulsive trespasser who has moved into the neighborhood and now is getting overly friendly.
Still, I find old age fascinating. Where I was totally surefooted at 79 plus 364 days, the next day, on my 80th birthday, people began helping me down the steps and warning me of obvious dangers. They started to regularly inspect my shirtfront to make sure I wasn’t drooling my food, and on occasion when they found the spots they seemed elated – as if they saved the old man from terminal embarrassment. The year before, the droppings were merely the tracks of a sloppy man whose habits they had silently endured all those years like bird spatters on the window.
And I provide people with advantages they never had before I became senile. My memory has never been good. Like a tiny closet in which to store all of one’s old clothes. Now those around me can, with solid assurance, insist they told me something that they, themselves forgot to tell me. “You know how your memory is,” they say with raised eyebrows and a sort of patient solicitness.
Another thing: they expect wisdom where none exists. They demand it. The only reason they can respect an old person is because he is supposed to be wise. He is no longer attractive physically. He can no longer perform all those physical things that were once his duties. He can now be tolerated only if he is wise. But Wisdom — why have you forsaken me?
I feel harassed by time. There is only so much of it. I don’t want to waste it, yet I have no sure measure by which to properly make my decisions. I think, well, I could be dead in the morning, so I better eat the ice cream with that hot apple pie tonight. Hate to be on my deathbed wishing I had and all they give me is weak chicken broth.
I need to attend to certain chores I must attend to before I die. I have put them off all these years, like cleaning out the drawers of all the junk I have accumulated – thoughtless to leave such a mess for others to deal with. I can hear them now: God, he was a sloppy old bastard. You’d think he could have gotten rid of this stuff and not left it for us to haul off.
And there’s my failure to gather that which needs to be put in places where my family can find them, things I have written, poems, clever letters, and pretended insights, and I also need to discard things I wish I hadn’t written – you know – just cleaning things up a bit like you do for strangers who read you – why not for the family? But is that the way one should be spending one’s priceless last days?
No, the odds for an unexpected death in the next day or two, next week, even next year are not staggering. I will probably live a while yet. I have a lot of things to do – like writing another memoir about cases thought to be important. Or making the perfect photograph. Truth is, in a decade or less those cases will be forgotten and new important cases will appear along with new heroes who will be soon forgotten as well, which brings back the vision of hot apple pie and ice cream that should be approached and attacked and destroyed, bite at a time — the only justifiable warfare I know. Hot fudge sundaes will also do.
I look back on a long life. Thankfully I have forgotten much of it. Sometimes fleeting bits and pieces slip into consciousness just as I am going to sleep or waking up. I made a lot of mistakes, grew from them, hurt others in the making, tried to rectify my wrongs with service to still others, and, in the end, fell vastly short of my potential. But I had just as well be satisfied with what my whole life looks like, as altered to fit my comfort level. Had I been a better man, a more generous person, a more productive human being, a better father and husband, well, I couldn’t have kept abreast of that. One needs a little sin in one’s life to understand virtue.
What would I do if somehow I were able to come back? I think I would become a bank robber, a poet and a painter. Bank robbing is the ultimate virtue. Banks rob the poor and the powerless, throw old ladies out of their homes in winter and leave endless hordes of innocent children homeless. Bankers are the elite of the criminal element in this country. They are usurious and heartless, empty-souled and play golf. And they measure all worth in money.
A good bank robber who could rob back for the poor would be a major saint – except that the banks also own the churches who bestow sainthood. I should call the new order of bank robbers the Brotherhood (and Sisterhood – we will need a good female accomplice to drive the getaway car) of the Best of the Worst Bank Robbers, or B&SBWBR for short. Such a saint would live forever because infinite joy is an infinite extender of life.
Now to quote the most important of my role models, Sitting Bull, who, after he laid an invaluable hunk of wisdom on the tribe mumbled: “I have spoken.”