Oliver Sacks wrote a piece for the New York Times last month called “The Joy of Old Age (No Kidding!)”. It ended with this:
“My father, who lived to 94, often said that the 80s had been one of the most enjoyable decades of his life. He felt, as I begin to feel, not a shrinking but an enlargement of mental life and perspective. One has had a long experience of life, not only one’s own life, but others’, too. One has seen triumphs and tragedies, booms and busts, revolutions and wars, great achievements and deep ambiguities, too. One has seen grand theories rise, only to be toppled by stubborn facts. One is more conscious of transience and, perhaps, of beauty. At 80, one can take a long view and have a vivid, lived sense of history not possible at an earlier age. I can imagine, feel in my bones, what a century is like, which I could not do when I was 40 or 60. I do not think of old age as an ever grimmer time that one must somehow endure and make the best of, but as a time of leisure and freedom, freed from the factitious urgencies of earlier days, free to explore whatever I wish, and to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together.”
While I am still a long ways from 80, I’m beginning to feel this way more and more too. If this is aging, I hope it never ends!
I just finished a short story on this subject–my first flash fiction, 300 words! It’s called “Us, Ancient.” I can’t share much here because I’m sending it out to some journals and they frown on that sort of thing. But excerpts, I understand, are fine.
So here’s the first and last lines. See if you can guess what comes in the middle.
“You know what I love most about swimming? How perky my breasts get. All round and full and buoyant. Gorgeous, really! And floating right up there where they should be.
It’s so deflating when I get out.”
“Us, swimming like dolphins through the universe . . . That’s how I see us.”
I’m not sure what it is about “the universe” I find so inspiring. I’m not alone. Humans have gazed at the stars in awe and wonder since the beginning of time. Perhaps, like me, they feel some strange kinship. They say we’re made of star-dust, after all.
I’ve always felt that’s why I have such an affinity for the sea. Seventy percent of our bodies are water. And that’s where life on earth all began, in the sea. Each human as well begins its life in the womb surrounded by a type of sea water. Amniotic fluid is salty.
They say that the molecules, cells, and even DNA of our bodies have a type of memory. Might that memory carry traces of its beginning at the dawn of time? I like to think so. I’m not sure how else to explain the feeling of deep empathy with the ocean and the night sky–as if I know them well, as if we are old friends, as if once I was rocked to sleep in their arms. As if I’m not done with them yet, and we are only partly parted. Something of me remains in them still.
This is what aging does, I guess. Allows us to slip the reins of reason and rationality into poetic license. I write elsewhere:
“There comes a time when the body loses its elasticity to such a degree, that you just start spilling out of it. You just aren’t there anymore. That person in the mirror? Not me now. Not sure where I am. Hovering, maybe, around the body. But more outside than in.”
I feel that way more and more, as if this body that has contained me all these years is slowly evaporating, and I’m becoming freer to be what I always was but never quite realized. A poet called it “mostly Love, now.” Mostly joy works too.