The passion of growing old

I came to the check-out at the grocery store with a few more things than I had planned on getting, among them three large-sized cans of soup on special, and a few cans of salmon. “I always forget my bags,” I told the cashier. So I had to buy one at least, for five cents each, and I wondered if one would be enough.

“I could put it all in one bag,” she said, “But are you sure you can carry it.”

I was, I confess, momentarily at a loss for words. And then a little voice inside me asked something along the lines of, do I really look that old?IMG_7933

I felt like saying, you know, a can still lift a . . . but I couldn’t think right then of anything other than a 100-lb sack of grain, which wouldn’t have been true anyway because I don’t even have one around the farm, and haven’t picked one up in quite a while.

So where might that have come from if not a memory cell long overdue for replacement? Say it out loud, and all I do is confirm what’s apparently already obvious, I’m getting old.

Getting?

For now, I think I’ll still go with that, in a mood of defiance perhaps, even as more and more people wherever I go are calling me “sir,” as in, “can I help you with that, sir,” when I go to lift a box that looks like it might be too heavy for . . . well, an old guy; or I’ll open a door out of politeness for a man or woman, or child for that matter, coming up behind me, and they’ll now almost always say, “thank you, sir.”

Not just “thank you,” like they used to, but “thank you, sir.”

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course; on the contrary, it’s virtually scientific evidence – if I were doing a study – proving human beings are good, polite, and kind creatures. I always respond in kind by saying, “no thanks, I’m okay,” or “you’re welcome.”

The problem is in my mind, where I’m still young, fit and able, more so I figure than a lot of people my age or even much younger. And most of the time my body still seems to agree.

It’s always been that way with me. I look back on my history of hard work, starting from the age of 12 when I lived on a horse farm near Durham and looked after 25 horses, feeding, watering, cleaning out their standing stalls and laying down fresh straw twice a day. That was after getting up early in the morning before breakfast and the two-mile walk to the one-room schoolhouse, and then do the barn chores again after school. In that respect, I wasn’t that much different than the other boys more or less my age at SS No. 12 who did their daily chores, except it wasn’t my family farm, and I was only there for the better part of a year.

But I knew on some level I was doing what I could to help my single-parent family of Mom and I get through a difficult time in the mid-1950s when working women made far less than men. She worked day and night in the big city to keep me in a safe place, and pay her own way as well. And I prayed every night in bed for God to “please keep my mother well.”

I like to think it worked.

The $1.50 per week I earned paid for my bi-weekly trips home to Toronto for the weekend – except when the roads to town were snowed in for a while that winter. The hard work and substantial meals helped me grow tall that year and put on close to 50 pounds.

So it was a formative year for me spiritually and physically. It wasn’t all good, but I won’t dwell on that part. What I really want to say here is that I look back on that year of my life, on that boy of 12 and his response to that experience, mostly with pride and respect for his qualities of strength and endurance.

I think that’s why when the four of us “boomers” were sitting on the back deck last summer and the topic turned to coping with growing old, I said I thought a big part of it involves an “identity crisis.”

I daresay as the boomer generation ages the question of how to grow old gracefully is going to give an awful lot of people food for thought. I’m sure it already is, for people like me, who are actually what I’ll call pre-boomers. We were born nine months after thousands of Canadians, including my father, went overseas before the end of the Second World War.

That initial “baby boom” population explosion, and then the bigger one after the soldiers came home has fueled every significant socio-economic development since then. It led to a period of greatly increased school enrolment in the beginning, to declining enrolment now, and the current boom in retirement housing for seniors.

It has, of course, affected a whole lot of other things, like the advent of the global economy and the huge shift of industrial production overseas to maximize multinational, shareholder-investment income. That’s been a huge double-edged sword as we’re seeing now, with low-interest rates and falling stock markets eating into moneyed, boomer income.

There are people I suppose whose lives have gone forward with a remarkable lack of turmoil and distress, and who are now moving toward elder-hood with their usual aplomb. I wish them continued peace of mind.

But I trust there are lots of boomers who, like me, have spent a lot of time over the years trying to understand themselves, a bittersweet world, and their place in it.

I made the point in that recent conversation that I came to see myself as someone with “tonnes of energy” and a certain power of endurance, someone who, no matter what else I might lack, could outwork just about anybody.

I went so far as to say I still felt like that 12-year-old boy at heart, and that I was finding it hard to cope with the reality that I no longer had his energy, the boundless energy I had well into my 60s, but which now seemed to be waning. So who am I now?

And did I, as before, still have the opportunity to come up with new dreams and associated plans about new possibilities?

At least one of my three friends quickly agreed coping with that “identity crisis” and finding a way to effectively embrace growing old was indeed a big issue for us boomers.

“Just take it one day at a time,” is a comment I seem to be hearing a lot these days.

Is that really what it come down to after all?

That sounds like an admission that growing old amounts to little more than survival..

But I continue to believe we humans need and want more than that. No matter what our ages, the dreams, the search for meaning and the wanting to be part of  leaving the world a better place, for our children, and their children, for everyone and everything, still drives us. We still seek a way to make it happen. And if we don’t we’ve allowed ourselves to be taken in by a phony idea of what growing old is supposed to be.

I have finally found my way home, to this place, to the land.

This is a beginning, not an end.

So, I have sent in my seed order, and soon I will make little miracles of life happen under grow lights.

And, yes, I will look forward to the spring – knowing full well anything can happen – when I will plant my garden, share the beauty, and enjoy the company of family, friends and other visitors, other searchers.

2 thoughts on “The passion of growing old

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