Old men

I am now half way between the age my father was when he died, at 71, and the age his father reached before his death, at 83.

To say that I feel old or don’t feel old would alike be meaningless as I’ve not been here before.

Nevertheless, I have become adept at work-arounds, evasions, rationalisations. Balance, for example, is not what it once was, nor the strength in my legs, and proposed remedies such as yoga and t’ai chi and other undignified fooleries don’t interest me. So I fake it, turning tentative step into casual saunter, moments of disorientation into bemused distraction, navigating hazardous obstacles into pantomimes of leisured deliberation.

Walt Whitman

So also with defects of hearing, of social skills, of attention. Life increasingly becoming a disciplined performance of naturalness. And who is to say that faking the natural is not itself natural? “I loaf and invite my soul,” Whitman wrote.

There was a time when it might be said I grew more mellow, more good-natured and tolerant. More than I had been in a turbulent, not to say destructive, youth. Now that I am old I would not say I am no longer mellow. But that softening tendency of middle age, I am happy to say, has not landed me in a puddle of mindless benevolence. Far from it, I discover daily new occasions for anger, irritability and impatience.

It is perhaps not unconnected with this that I find myself with a stiff neck. I thought it would go away, but it didn’t, and I got a doctor’s note for massage therapy.

Leah and I get along fine. She doesn’t patronise me and she is not hearty, and she has fine forensic knowledge in her fingertips. She has found, she says, the source of my trouble. Behind the right shoulder blade. Scar tissue. Some lifelong defects of posture, compensations for a congenital flaw perhaps, that have caught up with me. Leah explains that when we get old we “dry up,” and I think that catches things perfectly. I resolve to drink more water, which is anyway as much of a therapeutic regimen as I am likely to comply with.

On the way home I stop at our local supermarket for some greens and fall into conversation, as sometimes happens, with the produce man. Old, like me. An immigrant, something Mediterranean. He clutches my elbow and confides in whispers that the young people who come and go shopping have no idea they are going to die. This insight seems to give him pleasure. We smile at one another.