Friday, August 17, 2007

Getting Old

I used to believe that people didn’t change when they got older — they just got more like themselves. They became caricatures of themselves. Whatever qualities were prominent before became increasingly exaggerated until one’s personality became distorted, even more than one’s face. Today I’m not so sure.

I got my new US in the mail today. Nowadays Uncle Sam issues new passports every ten years, so the photographs leave a perfect records. I am definitely ten years older. My hair is thinner. My eyes are small, beady. I look a bit sad. They used to let you smile but now you have to suppress any expression, so what is left for me looks rather melancholy. But I’m not a caricature of my former self.

I also did a test of my own today. I have bought a watch so I can start doing in a graduated way. Obviously, at almost 76 years, I have a way to go before I can be in the right range. When exercising moderately for one minute, my heart rate went up to 108. Then after one minute’s rest it went down to 95, initially. I kept doing this five times. Then I calculated my recovery rate, which was 90. That’s not good, and it’s what counts. The , which you calculate after the heart has slowed down, was way too high. It should drop 30 points to be okay but it only dropped 13 points. That’s why I have to get to work on intense exercise and bring it down before it brings me down.

It’s the best indicator of probability of heart attack. I haven’t been exercising properly for a while and now I know I have to do it differently. But I’m not just the same as I ever was, only more so. I’m different now. Age will do that to a person.

What about my friends? As they the same or different? The answer differs, for they don’t all age the same way. I’m less close to some friends now because we are becoming more dissimilar. I thought we would just get closer — that after 30 or 40 years, nothing would diminish in a friendship; you’d just get closer. But that’s not necessarily true. One friend seems to be losing ground in ways that trouble me. She has nothing interesting to say and seems shallow. Old age should certainly deepen one, not make us childish. One must not seem to notice such things. After all, what good would it do to mention it? She can't help it. I don't suppose she realizes it.

Another woman friend retired a few years ago from a full career as an academic administrator and decided deliberately not to take up any new interests. She is just going to vegetate. That would be the most horrible life pattern I could imagine – just going to seed – but she is consciously choosing it. She and her husband garden and keep pets. It is getting harder to talk to her, though she still is healthy and beautiful.

A white haired female friend ten years younger than me still does have interesting things to say, but she feels distant from me and that may not be fixable. She is still highly active professionally and travels a lot, which I can no longer do. Nor do I want to travel. I once hurt her, long ago, and it has not healed between us. Can everything heal? I hadn’t intended to hurt her at that time but that’s how she saw things at the time and would not be placated. One day we will talk about it. In the meantime, though, there are arguments about intellectual issues when we get together. They are not really about the issues, but about old hurt feelings, but actually I don’t mind arguing with her because she’s more interesting than my other women friends who have nothing to say except to recount the doings of family and friends.

On the other hand, I have another white haired woman friend, just my age, who remained single all her life and teaches meditation professionally, since giving up her academic life. She’s still active, but her eyesight is so poor that she cannot read. That has to be a handicap when it comes to pursuing new interests.

So often, interests seem to shrink, especially in people who never were very engaged in the affairs of the world anyway. Lots of women constrict their affiliations, becoming more self-absorbed, or focusing on and losing interest in theoretical problems or public issues.

I know of only two good marriages among my old friends. I think they are good because neither partner will analyze the other. Marriage is hard, to be sure, whether one is young or old.

No, there are other good marriages, now that I search my memory. In some cases, I don’t know how the pairs function together because I usually see them alone. I'm thinking now of another good one in which I only know the husband. In all of our 19-year , he has never introduced me to his wife. Very odd, but maybe that's how they keep their marriage going well. He says she doesn’t like meeting people, so he just lets her be that way and has friends of his own separately. I refer to her sometimes as Mrs. , after the TV detective (see photo) who often referred to his , though no one ever saw her.

I saw Peter Falk, who played Columbo, in a film a while back. He was old, but still sweet. That's rare. Not many of us are sweet in old age. I guess if you knew how to be sweet when young (I did not) you don't forget in old age. Like riding a bike -- which I also never learned to do.

Another friend always seemed to have a , but now I wonder. She has retired recently and is putting aside her previous interests and memberships, letting him decide what to do with the rest of their lives. She’s doing that quite consciously. I don’t know what to make of it. I wouldn’t be able to do so myself, however wonderful my husband might have been. (He wasn't.) In her case, she will be giving up a full life of her own, just to cooperate with his desires.

This style of writing used to be called "stream of consciousness." I wonder what they call it these days.



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