LIVING THE GOOD LIFE
There are three ingredients in the good life:
Learning, earning and yearning.
Ezekiel Emanuel is 57 years old. He is a physician specializing in cancer and the Vice Provost professor The University of Pennsylvania. He is a very smart man. Last October, he wrote an essay saying he wanted his life to end at 75.
He is a fool.
When I was 57, I had no idea what fun I could have once I crossed the line where productivity, beauty and fame topped the list of what I needed to make my day. When I was 57 I cared that my face was drooping, my hearing dulled and my walk slowed, step by step. I am 81 now and I love my wrinkled face. It gets me every perc I could possibly want. I step into a packed car in the tube and at least 3 gorgeous men stand up so I can rest my wrinkled bum on a seat. I board a train and take a premium seat that is labeled Priority Seating just because I have been around a long time.
When I carry packages up or down stairs, there is always someone to carry those bundles for me and usually with a smile. I hop (yes I can still hop) on a bus and sit down without worrying about the fare. I go to movies, plays and concerts and pay at least 25% less than everyone else including all those youngsters under 60 with low paying jobs and expensive taste.
If I am in a queue and it is taking too long I clutch my heart and gasp a little; that gets me to the head of the line before I can exhale. I stand at a counter rummaging though endless coins I cannot recognize without my glasses and NOT ONCE has anyone said, ”Hurry up, Bitch.” No indeed. Invariably there will be some kind soul who will hold my packages while I search for coins I dropped in the bottom of my purse and the clerk will ALWAYS smile and say, “Take your time, darling.”
And that brings me to another point: EVERYONE, man, woman and even toddlers, address me as “Darling” and they mean it. The very things I did at 50 that annoyed the hell out of everyone; the missteps and accidents I had in my twenties that made both husbands leave me; all are absolutely adorable now that I am in my ninth decade.
But it isn’t just the attitude of everyone around me that has made life so very sweet these days. It is MY attitude. I am no longer concerned with what I see in the mirror. It never got me much when I was younger and I don’t expect it to be the 8th aesthetic wonder of the world now. That means that all the time, money and anguish I spent in beauty shops and on countless rejuvenation creams, skin enhancers, hair boosters…all of it is now spent on more rewarding activities like eating anything I want because what the hell: by the time I am too obese for my coffin, I won’t care. I won’t have to spend the extra money for it either. The welfare department will.
I am at the age now where I can spend as much as I want for anything I want. If I run out, I can get benefits. My intention is to reduce my bank balance to zero and then apply for residence in a home. We take care of our elderly here. I am not worried about my liver either. It’s held up this long, hasn’t it?
When I was in my fifties, I anguished because I had not made a visible mark in the world. No one knew who I was. My name never made a headline. Now I realize that it isn’t the publicity you get for what you do, it is what you do that matters. If it makes me happy and I am involved, then hooray; getting some award or a mention in someone’s column won’t change that. It took me this long to get that.
“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,” says Emanuel.
And I say, “How does he know that? He hasn’t gotten there yet.”
Well I have and I can honestly say that my walk is slower, but I get where I want to go and I do not feel deprived. I enjoy my life just as it is. I do not have the same desires I had at twenty or thirty or forty because that is not the stage of life I am in right now. My perspective has improved. I have confidence in myself. I trust my judgment. I don’t want to go to bars and find a hot sex pot to take me to bed. That doesn’t interest me anymore. I don’t want to wear uncomfortable clothes that reveal my nether parts because my nether parts are not the focus of my pleasure anymore. My mind and my heart are the hungry organs now and I do everything I can to feed them. It is more fun and not as sloppy.
It took me a long time to figure out that life is like a card game. You take the hand you get and play it out the best you can. It does no good to bemoan what you didn’t get or begrudge others for what they have achieved. You do not know what they had to do to get there. I am happy now with the life I have but I am not content to stand still. Not yet.
I am living in the now. What is past is gone. I am not that person anymore. I don’t look good in her clothes. I do not want to walk in her shoes. They would pinch my bunion. I do not want to waste the time she did on the telephone bemoaning what she didn’t have. I love my current life and I am determined to make the most of it. I will not waste my energy worrying about what I will do when I am ninety because I am not there yet. When I am, I have no doubt that I will have adjusted to the difference in my motor abilities, my memory and my diminished life style. I do not know how I will like it until it happens.
Do not get me wrong. I do not want to waste away in a hospital bed anymore than you do. I have reached an age where I am determined to let my body fall apart at its own pace. I do get my flu shots but I am not sure I would allow any procedures to prolong my life if I had a terminal illness. I am not afraid of dying. It is after all the most dramatic event in our life other than birth. I cannot recall being afraid when I exited my mother’s body and I have no intention of being consumed with fear about my death because I have no idea when it will happen or how. When I am there, I will deal with it. Hopefully it will be a grand and dramatic departure.
My goal right now is to live abundantly. I will not spend one iota of the time I have in worry because worry never accomplished anything and I have a lot I need to do. I want to learn to fan dance. I see me shimming and swaying to the music showing off my cute bum and my shapely lets and then turning to the crowd, peeking out of the fans with a face that looks for all the world like an abandoned prune that needs ironing. It should have an amazing effect on the crowd.
I want to play the ukulele and tap dance while I do it. I want to explore the nooks and crannies of a Europe I have read about and I want to make a lot of strangers laugh. Want to fall in love the right way this time…loving who he is, not how he looks, what he buys me or what he wears. The size of his wallet or his dick are not barometers of love for me anymore. They never were but I thought they were. I know better now. I cannot be bothered regretting the hump on my back or the arthritis that has gnarled my fingers. They still work and while they do, I am using them.
I have done the accepted thing. I have prepared a directive that tells everyone not to resuscitate me and not to use any artificial means to keep me alive. I have donated all the organs that work to anyone who needs them although who would want my ears is something I still cannot figure out. My kidneys however are stellar and I hope the person who gets them appreciates how beautifully they have worked for me.
I do not want to lie in a hospital bed on life support with medical science keeping me alive and i know very well that is a decision I must make while i have all my faculties and can prepare the proper papers to keep an exuberant medical staff from pumping up my lungs and stimulating a heart that no longer wants to beat. I have done that but that is all I have done. I am ready and willing for death to happen when it is ready for me. My mother always said I arrived two moths after I was due. “You were always slow,” she said.”Right from the beginning.”
But I got here didn’t I?
I hope my exit will be cleaner and faster but if it isn’t well…I cannot know what it will be like until it happens. I am determined to only die once….and that will be on the day my heart stops beating and my lungs give me no air. …not one minute before.
The trick is to live…live as fully, as beautifully and as daringly as you can. Reach for every star and don’t be afraid to meet the price, do the work and pay the dues to get you there. There is no dream that is impossible. Wallace Stegner says we do not die from a disease. We die because we are finished.
I am not finished. Are you?