Lately I’ve been brooding over the fact that I’ll be turning 60 in May. Less than three months to go, and bingo. Which, come to think of it, is probably all I’ll be good for. Ba-da-bing.
There are some things in life you cannot understand till you’ve lived them. One is being a parent. You don’t know love or fear till you’ve been a parent. Another is aging. You can’t know what it’s like to lug this duffel bag of experience on your shoulder—a shoulder that, by the way, has been giving you this funny pain lately—unless you’ve actually been stuffing it with experience over time. By now the duffel bag is crammed with good times and broken hearts and high hopes and thwarted plans and loyal friends and might-have-beens and a bunch of hurts, both deserved and undeserved, and a glad amazement at being alive and an abiding sense of being carried along some moving sidewalk toward some unknowable something.
Speaking of moving sidewalks, I found myself the other day on a treadmill at the cardiologist. I’ve been having some pain in my chest. Probably just indigestion, my internist said, but let’s not take any chances. You’re at the age when things do happen.
So last week I took my cardio-vascular system in for a check-up. The technicians injected a nuclear tracer into my veins and took pictures of the blood vessels that run in and out of my heart. They did an echocardiogram, which puts an image of your heart on the screen not unlike a sonogram of a fetus in a womb—except that it’s your heart up there and they’re looking for blockages that could kill you. And finally they wired me up like a human toaster and put me on the treadmill and said, “Go!”
And as it turns out, I’m just fine. I have the heart of a stallion. And yes, that pain in my chest is probably just indigestion.
But there are some things in life you cannot understand until you’ve lived them. And one is sitting in the waiting room at the cardiologist’s office, surrounded by other men who have all reached the age when things do happen, and thinking: Welcome to your demographic.
Am I bothered by this? I don’t know. It’s a funny thing about us humans. We don’t want to die young but we don’t want to grow old. I avoided the first alternative, so I guess I’ll try to pursue the second with some grace and good humor.
As my favorite Irish poet wrote in “Sailing to Byzantium”:
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress.
You knew I’d drag Yeats into this. But great poets know stuff.
The photo of William Butler Yeats in 1932 is by Edward Steichen.