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Posts Tagged ‘death’

The author argues in this article why he hopes to die at age 75:

I am sure of my position. Doubtless, death is a loss. It deprives us of experiences and milestones, of time spent with our spouse and children. In short, it deprives us of all the things we value.

But here is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.

I feel less strongly about death or the timing of it. And while I think I’ll get use to it, the thoughts of ageing still dishearten me.

But it also illuminates a key issue with aging: the constricting of our ambitions and expectations.

We accommodate our physical and mental limitations. Our expectations shrink. Aware of our diminishing capacities, we choose ever more restricted activities and projects, to ensure we can fulfill them. Indeed, this constriction happens almost imperceptibly. Over time, and without our conscious choice, we transform our lives. We don’t notice that we are aspiring to and doing less and less. And so we remain content, but the canvas is now tiny. The American immortal, once a vital figure in his or her profession and community, is happy to cultivate avocational interests, to take up bird watching, bicycle riding, pottery, and the like. And then, as walking becomes harder and the pain of arthritis limits the fingers’ mobility, life comes to center around sitting in the den reading or listening to books on tape and doing crossword puzzles. And then …

 

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Reflections on old age

A long reflection on old age by Penelope Lively. It’s something most of us will need to confront at some point. Some excerpts I like:

But perhaps I have arrived at the state of death-consciousness that he identifies – we cannot truly savour life without a regular awareness of extinction. Yes, I recognise that, along with the natural human taste for a conclusion: there has been a beginning, which proposes an end. I am afraid of the run-up to death, because I have had to watch it. But I think that many of us who are on the last lap are too busy with the baggage of old age to waste much time anticipating the finishing line. We have to get used to being the person we are, the person we have always been, but encumbered now with various indignities and disabilities, shoved as it were into some new incarnation. We feel much the same, but clearly are not. We have entered an unexpected dimension; dealing with this is the new challenge.

……

And in any case, I am someone else now. There are things I no longer want, things I no longer do, things that are now important. Writing survives, for me – so far, so far. Other pleasures – needs – do not.

……

You get used to it. And that surprises me. You get used to diminishment, to a body that is stalled, an impediment. An alter ego is amazed, aghast perhaps – myself in the roaring 40s, when robust health was an assumption, a given, something you barely noticed because it was always there. Acceptance has set in, somehow, has crept up on you, which is just as well, because the alternative – perpetual rage and resentment – would not help matters. ”

……

Simone de Beauvoir confronted the problem in her extensive study Old Age: “Old age is particularly difficult to assume because we have always regarded it as something alien, a foreign species: ‘Can I have become a different being while I still remain myself?'” What is at issue, it seems to me, is a new and disturbing relationship with time. It is as though you advanced along a plank hanging over a canyon: once, there was a long reassuring stretch of plank ahead; now there is plank behind, plenty of it, but only a few plank paces ahead. Once, time was the distance into which you peered – misty, impenetrable, with no discernible landmarks, but reassuringly there. In old age, that dependable distance has been whisked suddenly behind you – and it does seem to have happened suddenly. Not long ago, there was some kind of balance – a fore and aft, as it were. No longer; time has looped back, regressed, it no longer lies ahead, but behind. It has turned into something else, something called memory, and we need it – oh dear me, yes, we need it – but it is dismaying to have lost that sense of expectation, of anticipation. The mind does not always keep up – the subconscious, rather. In dreams, I am not always the self of today; I am often young, or younger, and if my children are present they have often become children again, obligingly – we have all jumped backwards. The mind cannot bear too much reality, it seems; in the same way, my husband Jack is nearly always present in my dreams – it is 12 years since he died, but at night he returns, not always recognisably himself, but a shadowy dream companion figure that I always know to be him.

……

Out with acquisition, excitement, and aspiration except in tempered mode. And, on another front, I don’t in the least lament certain emotions. I can remember falling in love, being in love; life would have been incomplete without that particular exaltation, but I wouldn’t want to go back there. I still love – there is a swath of people whom I love – but I am glad indeed to be done with that consuming, tormenting form of the emotion.

……

Certain desires and drives have gone. But what remains is response. I am as alive to the world as I have ever been – alive to everything I see and hear and feel. I revel in the spring sunshine, and the cream and purple hellebore in the garden; I listen to a radio discussion about the ethics of selective abortion, and chip in at points; the sound of a beloved voice on the phone brings a surge of pleasure. I think there is a sea-change, in old age – a metamorphosis of the sensibilities. With those old consuming vigours now muted, something else comes into its own – an almost luxurious appreciation of the world that you are still in. Spring was never so vibrant; autumn never so richly gold. People are of abiding interest – observed in the street, overheard on a bus. The small pleasures have bloomed into points of relish in the day – food, opening the newspaper (new minted, just for me), a shower, the comfort of bed. It is almost like some kind of end-game salute to the intensity of childhood experience, when the world was new. It is an old accustomed world now, but invested with fresh significance; I’ve seen all this before, done all this, but am somehow able to find new and sharpened pleasure.

Here are some beautiful quotes from John Updike on death and afterlife.

Not only are selves conditional but they die. Each day, we wake slightly altered, and the person we were yesterday is dead. So why, one could say, be afraid of death, when death comes all the time? It is even possible to dislike our old selves, those disposable ancestors of ours. For instance, my high-school self — skinny, scabby, giggly, gabby, frantic to be noticed, tormented enough to be a tormentor, relentlessly pushing his cartoons and posters and noisy jokes and pseudo-sophisticated poems upon the helpless high school — strikes me now as considerably obnoxious, though I owe him a lot: without his frantic ambition and insecurity I would not be sitting on (as my present home was named by others) Haven Hill.

……

For many men, work is the effective religion, a ritual occupation and inflexible orientation which permits them to imagine that the problem of their personal death has been solved. Unamuno: ‘Work is the only practical consolation for having been born.’ My own chosen career — its dispersal and multiplication of the self through publication, its daily excretion of yet more words, the eventual reifying of those words into books — certainly is a practical consolation, a kind of bicycle which, if I were ever to stop pedaling, would dump me flat on my side. Religion enables us to ignore nothingness and get on with the jobs of life.

Talking about work and age, Paul McCartney is releasing a new album in his 70s, while Jiro san is still making sushi day in and day out.

Hope I’ll be good enough at that stage to find my work meaningful. And given I still have hope and anticipations it means there’s still more time. Getting old seems frightening to me now, but I’m pretty sure I’ll adapt to it when it arrives.

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