It’s official, I am now old. As of December 1st, I’m covered by Medicare. I remember, not long ago, knowing folks who were receiving Medicare and thinking, wow, that nice older person is timeworn. Here I am, equally ancient. As a young adult, which seems like yesterday, I was pretty certain that I would never live long enough to worry about retirement. In retrospect, I’m glad I listened to my parent’s sage advice advocating that I set aside a little savings for the future.
Sixty-five is kind of a milestone birthday. Beyond starting Medicare and continuing to collect another “entitlement,” Social Security, I’m eligible for a slew of senior discounts. Many restaurants, motels, and rental car companies offer nice discounts to seniors, but with Covid-19 still rampantly spreading, it doesn’t seem likely I’ll be renting a car, dining out or asking Motel 6 to leave the light on for us anytime soon. Additionally, I can obtain a free college education in my state of residence (Kentucky). I’ve often thought about going back to school. The one great epiphany of aging is that you realize how little you really know despite a lifetime of experience. I am unlikely to take advantage of the free education since I have become accustomed to a process of self-learning. Perhaps the adage, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, applies. I love reading books on a vast array of topics, fiction and nonfiction. I garner wisdom through travel to new places and by listening to the life stories of others met along the way. I enjoy this form of experiential educational since it’s free to all of us at any age.
A profound juxtaposition exists with obtaining geriatric status; while I find myself moving at a much slower pace, time seems to be moving exponentially faster. Light speed comes to mind. This is a minor source of trepidation, but I take it in stride. I do this by smiling at younger folks around me who seem to be chronically rushed, for example, when I’m working a route and a much younger climber happens along. The young whipper snapper observes me gearing up and suddenly decides, at that exact moment, that he/she wants to do the same route. I can feel the angst I’ve created as I imagine the thought process of this high-energy-laden youth who has just invaded our quiet morning at the remote crag we’ve chosen for the day…
Hmmmm, this really old climber dude, who has taken FOREVER just getting his shoes and knee pads on (wtf, knee pads?), is going to be on this rig forever. My day is fucked. Maybe I can pressure him by asking him to let me go first? Okay, now he’s pretending to be hard of hearing and is ignoring my request. Maybe I can dance around impatiently with my tight rock shoes and skinny jeans on. I’ll gyrate and make snide remarks while I’m already tied to my rope. If I do this while he’s climbing it should help Mr. Geezer dude realize my extreme impatience, perhaps?!
Now, as an official ancient human, I find myself climbing slower than a koala bear in a Christmas tree. I justify it internally by thinking, age before beauty my young friend, age before beauty…
I often like to quote Larry McMurtry from his novel Lonesome Dove when I encounter people who seem to be chronically rushing through life. Deep into the story McMurtry teaches us the importance of being patient. To set the scene: a young sheriff, July Johnson, on an expedited mission to capture an escaped killer comes across an old traveling frontiersman whose pushcart has bogged down in the mud. Johnson stops just long enough to help the man free the cart, and when invited to share a camp for the night indicates that he needs to move on because time is precious to his objective. The old man responds to the sheriff by saying, “The grave is our destination in life, those that hurry tend to get there more quickly.” I love this line, however, the problem with relating this profound message to rushed individuals is that they are rarely patient enough to listen to the telling of it. Admittedly, I might be offering up a slightly more long-winded version… as in pretty much retelling the entire novel. In my defense, I’m a huge proponent of setting the proper scene for any prophetic educational opportunity. I feel that it adds to the flavor and helps the recipient gain a better understanding. I apologize in advance if it may require having the patience and fortitude of an Emperor Penguin to hear it all.
I know that birthday challenges are all the rage lately and since this is a milestone birthday, maybe for the first time ever, I’ll take on this challenge: 65 minutes of Astanga yoga; read 65 pages of Fear, by Bob Woodward; imbibe 6.5 ounces of Pinot Noir; watch 6.5 hours of House, which we have on DVD. (I know, old school, right?); sleep 6.5 hours straight before I have to wake and drain my bladder for 65 seconds; return to bed and sleep an additional 65 minutes; awake, brew coffee and contemplate making it to the next milestone birthday at age 70… PSYCHED!
I now find it somewhat normal to contemplate my eventual demise. After all, death is an inevitable part of life. Having a finite life is an excellent motivational resource. It requires one to focus on being completely alive. Don’t get me wrong, I am in no hurry to visit my final resting place anytime soon. Ideally, if I could chose my end in advance it would be as follows:
Picture a nice warm sunny afternoon in a massive grid-bolted overhanging cave in perhaps Spain or Kalymnos, or someplace new, yet to be discovered. I’m surrounded by a handful of close friends, young and old, who are all climbing and sending hard routes on this perfect day. Maggie, fresh off the hardest redpoint of her 80+ year long life is now on the belay end while I’m climbing. I’m well into my 90’s and have just finished an incredibly steep climb with amazing athletic movement. Ideally it would be something pumpy and enduring with tons of bomber knee bars and stuff, perhaps techniques not yet discovered for enhanced climbing movement. Techniques so advanced and efficient that jealous climbing purists and traditionalists refuse to adapt to them and call out “foul!”. I’ve successfully clipped the anchors and as I’m being lowered to the ground, my well-worn, antique heart quietly ceases to function. I expire. Darkness. Alas, grieve not a moment, nor shed a single tear, for all witnesses to the event will remember the serene smile permanently, deeply, etched upon my heavily wrinkled and weatherworn face.
In the event this future demise scenario doesn’t pan out, there’s a backup plan involving a hefty quantity of morphine…just in case.
Rest assured that the above life ending scenario is still a long way off! There are plenty of routes left for me to ascend. I have a million more downward dogs to perform. I foresee a countless number of interactions left to share with family and friends. Certainly, I have thousands of pages left to read in books yet to be discovered. There are still innumerable places left to explore. Finally, and more importantly, I still have ample time to remind folks, through my oft long-winded stories, that life is not a race and is better savored at a slower pace.
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