What Old People Know
By Lucy Rose Fischer ~
All summer, I enjoy cherries and peaches—the luscious summer fruits, which dribble juice on our chins, necks and fingertips. Peaches and cherries are pricey, even when they’re in season—costing more than apples or even the lovely clementines that we get in winter. I treat myself to lots of cherries and peaches. Because I’m old.
Actually, I don’t think of myself as really old. I’m always a little surprised when I look in the mirror and see my gray hair and crinkled face or when someone refers to me as old. I hate when my doctor reminds me “At your age, this complaint [with eyes, joint, skin, heart, etc.] is normal and to be expected…” But I didn’t expect to have this problem! It doesn’t seem normal to me if my joints are worn or my eyes get spots.
Like my old car, my body parts seem to be rusting and wearing out from too much use. Sometimes it’s my knees. Or my neck. Or my shoulder.
Not long ago, it was my knees—if I sat too long or walked too much, my knees throbbed. The nurse said: ice packs and ibuprofen. Okay—the knees are better now… Is this just part of the process—”the breakdown of movable parts?”
And, of course, I forget words. I especially forget proper nouns, like names. Walking on a path by the lake one morning, I meet two sets of friends. I would like to introduce these friends to each other. But I can’t remember their names. It’s as if their names are floating in the blue air around me but I can’t retrieve them—at least not at that moment. I stand by feeling foolish as my friends introduce themselves.
These friends seem to understand and tolerate my forgetting problem—they’re about my age…
As we grow older, we have a different perspective on life. A gerontologist put it this way: at a certain age, we start counting years, not so much in chronological age, but in how many more years we might live. Of course, the number of our years is a mystery. But what old people know is that our time is finite.
Theoretically, young people know this too. But when we’re young, time seems like it will go on forever. We dream about what we might be and what we might accomplish, and anything and everything seems possible. We jog on hard surfaces, play tennis or football, and use our fingers, elbows and knees as if they would never rust.
When we’re old, we understand finiteness in a visceral way. We’ve loved and lost. We’ve had our share of successes and failures. Various of our body parts have broken down.
What old people understand is the passage of time. We’ve seen how babies grow into middle aged men and how accidents or sickness can come with no warning—or how good things can happen too. History is something we’ve experienced. We’ve seen men walking on the moon, lived through the Vietnam War, and watched the fall of the Berlin Wall. The current pandemic is yet one more major historical event in our lives.
I used to teach classes on the “Sociology of Aging” to college students, most of whom were 19-year-olds. For them, aging was something that happened to their grandparents—it wasn’t real for them. They could learn the facts, the statistics and the theories. But old age was like a far-off planet they never planned to visit.
I’ve been lucky, extraordinarily lucky—I’ve had a wonderful life. I’m grateful. And, now in my mid-70s, I still have dreams and work to do: books I’m writing, art I’m creating, places I want to go. So, I’m not preparing my epilogue—not quite yet.
But somewhere there’s a stopwatch with my name on it. My number of summers is finite. So, I’m going to eat peaches and cherries in the summer—lots of peaches and cherries.
Lucy Rose Fischer, PhD, is an award-winning Minnesota author, artist and social scientist. Her recent books include I’M NEW AT BEING OLD (Temuna Press, 2010), GROW OLD WITH ME (Temuna Press, 2019), and THE JOURNALIST (Spark Press, 2020). www.lucyrosedesigns.com