Beneath the music from a farther room.
So How should I presume?..."
T.S. Eliot from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Something in me is loathe to admit that one of my all-time favorite poems was written by a notoriously difficult man musing on his aging; musing on his approaching death. Still, I confess that I have loved this poem since my high school days: ah! the rhythm, the phrases, the images...
I never knew what Eliot meant by "I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled." These days I think he might have meant that he was losing height...shrinking! I am losing height---but I am not shrinking. No! I tell myself that I shall not shrink. I shall not shrink.
It is now late in the year 2011. I was born even later in the year 1942. That should tell you something. A few days ago, I confronted myself in the far-too-big mirror in my bathroom. I looked closely at my face. I may have said aloud, "Thank God I don't look like my Mother." If I said anything aloud, I would have said that--because my narcissistic mother and I shared a lifelong dislike of one another--a definite repulsion of the other. She was borderline obese. I am not. PHEW! I continued to stare at my face and then (all this in the privacy of my over-lighted salle de bain) I clasped my hands to my mouth and garbled out, "Oh, good heavens! I look like my Grandmother Bailey!"
In that moment, I did. I looked like my maternal Grandmother! What an utterly and deeply disconcerting realization. I may look (a bit) like her but I am not a bit like my Grandmother. She was a forlorn and lonely woman whose husband abandoned her a few minutes after her prime---to pursue Las Vegas Showgirls and the like! I, on the other hand, abandoned three husbands in pursuit of a life I seem compelled to chase! Grandmother Bailey spent her remaining, self-created tragic decades (She lived well into her nineties) lamenting her lot in life.
I have rarely, rarely, rarely lamented my lot in life! Oh, I have lightly lamented the fact that I do not play the cello or the piano. And I frequently lament the fact that I am not fluent in a multitude of languages. But those are my only real and recurring lamentations regarding my personal day-to-day, decade-through-decade lot. Of course, I lament BIG non-personal things---like the ongoing destruction of the ecosystem and the greed of the super rich at the expense of those in need...things like that. You do too, don't you?
Now, at the extraordinary age of sixty-eight and three quarters, my memory is still excellent (Merci, Dieu!) --save for an occaisonal forgetful moment---like when I walk, with purpose, into a room and then pause to remember the purpose of the walk. At those times, I pause and in a snap, I remember. It comes back to me in a matter of a few seconds: Ah, yes! I wanted the scissors or a particular book or a phone number. Surely you have experienced something akin to this. I am comfortable knowing that I have tolerance for the quirky absent-mindedness of this quirky mind of mine. This is not Alzheimers, I tell myself. And then, to assure myself, I remember how much I remember: hundreds and hundreds of poems and song lyrics; the location in books of particularly important quotes; my exact location--along with everyone who was with me--when this or that monumental event occurred. Still, I have friends who talk of "senior moments" and I tell them to STOP using the phrase or the excuse. It's bad luck. I might suffer from a soupcon of superstition.
There is one good thing I keep forgetting. Sometimes I have to remind myself to forget it: I keep forgetting that I am no longer young. And when I remind myself that that is so, a whole long list of private do's and don'ts appears: don't even think about wearing those super short skirts or skinny tank tops or see-through blouses or strapless dresses or spandex anythings ever again and do remember to stand up straight, to drink plenty of water, to do crossword puzzles and to floss...What about a multi-vitamin!
"...There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet..."
More and more, I wonder about Botox, facelifts, injections of puffy stuff for my thin lips...but then I remember (see! I remember) that I want to be graceful in my aging...I want to be healthy. I want to celebrate the years. I want to drink life to the leas---however I don't want to drink foul tasting gooey green drinks with strange powders in them even if they are guaranteed to build strong muscles and make me irresistable to my peers (that actually doesn't seem too appealing!). Actually, I drank my foul tasting green drinks decades ago. Peyote.
Peyote taught me many things. It taught me to see between the molecules of a leaf. It showed me my (future) hundred year old face. It introduced me to the mysteries of the wind. It gave me a glimpse of my important place in the world. It instilled in me a sense of safety. I can definitely live with that. Until I can't.
This morning I awoke before the sun showed up at my house. My lower back felt stiff as I put on my slippers and went outside with my dog. "Good morning", I said aloud to the air. And then, on impulse, I sat on the dry ground, next to a small grove of junipers. I closed my eyes and listened...shhh...just a few birds chirping, preparing for the day. Like me. I tried to chirp convincingly. Nah! I touched the Earth and sifted some dusty dirt through my fingers. I felt the small stones, the pieces of twigs...And I felt my precious Earth turning, slowly and surely...eastwards...toward the Sun. I let the stffness in my back slip into the soft earth. Gone! I plucked a berry from the closest juniper branch and rolled it between my fingers... and the earth turned to meet the sunrise. With the light, I stood and walked to the road and then back to the house. With each step I marveled at the small pale coral clouds---like an arc of prancing feathers overhead. Then, in a kind of communion with the sunrise, I swallowed the berry. I hardly tasted its bitterness.
"Do I dare to eat a peach?"
T.S. Eliot asked. I do not ask. For breakfast, I slice a big firm Colorado peach into a bowl of semi-healthy flakes. I turn on the news. My right knee creaks a little as I lean down to pick up the dog dish. Maybe I'll wear that "knee thing" today to strengthen the lazy ligaments. I touch my hand to my back where the stiffness no longer is...The phone rings. It must be my daughter who knows that I am an early riser! I pick up my frothy latte, "Good morning, Pussycat..."
"And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep...tired...or it malingers,..."