Long, slow goodbye

Gold Key Motel, May 1961

Living in our youth-centric culture, I’m always surprised how long we are old. It seems unfair, from my vantage point a generous few decades away, that if we are lucky enough to be long-lived those years are mostly tacked on the end.

A depressing quote from a story about a fairly healthy centenarian.

Mrs. Mackenzie has it all going on except any kind of reasonable life expectancy. In the purgatory of assisted living everything is subtraction. It’s a high school where graduation is only a negative thing–death or the nursing home. This is the underlying current, the insistent minor key bass line walking below every illusory melody of independence.

In assisted living, there is a sorting out of who sits where in the dining room, who gets invited to drinks before dinner, and who replaces the just-deceased member of the bridge foursome. The more competent want to surround themselves with their peers. The frailer minds and body are unwelcome omens of the probable future.There’s a natural sorting out as in high school. Not in terms of the popular kids, the jocks, the hippies, the goths, and the nerds, but a more callous sorting out in terms of cognitive capacity. If you are not capable of holding up your end of the conversation, you’re not going to be invited to a table where there is a conversation. Lag a few steps behind the others, and they will cut you out of the herd.

We should give more thought to our final years. Although it’s natural to avoid the unpleasant thought of our mortality (if only aging was a simple matter of retirement and Viagara), it’s a reality better prepared for now than suffered through later. I certainly do not want to go through high school again.

(And, I should gracelessly add, there are people today who would benefit if we made the institutional and societal changes which are in our self-interest.)

(photo credit)


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