My Heart’s in the Right Place

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.

9 Responses to My Heart’s in the Right Place

  1. Kaze:

    I do agree with you on the point of not understanding aspects of life until you have experienced them, but I will remind you that it is not better to die young (regardless of what Housman said), whether on the athletic fields of glory or on the fields of Flanders.

    Do you have regrets about your life? Or do you feel like you lived a fulfilled life? Something tells me that you have enjoyed most of your 60 years.

    I'm sure I'll have the same feelings at age 60, too. Until then I will continue to just focus on each foot as I walk through this part of my life, and you can scold me for not taking the time to look around at the bigger picture.

    P.S. – The NYT Review of Books did a story on the death of traditional publishing and the birth of the digital publishing age. You should read it…it reminded me of your threat from a couple of weeks ago about the death of fiction.

  2. I love the statement, "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."

    Very quotable

  3. Wheels – "Do you have regrets about your life? Or do you feel like you lived a fulfilled life?" Nothing like a bullet whizzing by your ear–or an echocardiogram–to focus your thoughts on questions like those. Here's the only way I can answer: As I've gotten older, I've learned to forgive myself for the stuff I would otherwise spend time regretting. As for a fulfilling life, that's hard to measure. All is vanity except for love, and in that department I've been luckier than I deserve. That's the best I can do.

    And I would never scold you for not looking at the big picture, since you're a Maryland basketball fan and therefore have a true sense of life's tragic dimensions.

  4. Then I Will Be Old

    The day that I stop
    wearing jeans
    and flower power skirts,
    the day I do no longer put
    some make-up on my eyes,
    and see my man go soft inside,
    or look at me with love
    and a sparkle in his eyes,
    the day I won’t feel
    like seducing him,
    no matter where, or when,
    the day I will stop
    saying, Hell! and switch to,
    Oh, Good Heavens!
    or call somebody nasty,
    and not a bloody shit,
    the day, I will no longer try
    to make a straight-faced waiter crack,
    and give me a haemorrhoid smile
    (which must be painful
    on his poor, immobile facial skin),
    the day, I will stop taking in
    just any straying cat, or dog,
    animal or human,
    and talk to flowers,
    the day, I’ll think it silly
    for someone … uh … ‘my age’
    to play the Harry Potter games
    on my PC and swear
    at Voldemort and Malfoy
    in duet with my grandson,
    or proudly show him
    how I can make wheelies
    in my wheelchair,
    the day I will have learned
    to keep my big mouth shut,
    stop fighting bigotry,
    injustice, hatred, racism,
    the day I will believe in G-d,
    because I’m afraid to die,
    and to secure my destination
    in the beyond,
    then … damn it,
    on that day,
    I will be old.

    © Deborah Rey 2006

    (I was 68 when I wrote this and still stand behind it)

  5. Deborah, how great of you to share that with us! It's just what Yeats meant, I would say, when he wrote that we'd be old "unless/Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing/For every tatter in its mortal dress." That includes talking to flowers.

  6. … and doing wheelies in a wheelchair, Kaze.

    Keats did say it all a bit nicer, didn't he? Oh well … he is he and me is me. I just hope I didn't shock him. He'll tell me when we meet at the Happy Hunting Grounds, I hope.

    Very proud to be allowed to be here, Kaze. Very.

  7. My new friend Marie Clewley posted this in response to my link in facebook. I thought it was very dear and got her permission to put it here:

    Oh yes, "Kaze", I just read your article and am right there with you! I love your description of the duffle bag we carry full of all the experiences, feelings, lessons learned..isn't that just so. I know how you feel. I had to go to ER awhile ago with a kidney stone and they did a cat scan…found my gall bladder full of stones, whoopie! I am suddenly watching my diet very closely and cannot eat what I want. I turn the big 60 this summer, suddenly feeling like I have awakened after ignoring time, to a mind forever young yet wise, and not wanting to acknowledge the wear and tear!! :D

  8. Dearest, all i read makes me shivering…
    There are no instructions for living and in all my life i did not meet a teacher who tought me to live…life itself did and still does "hic et nunc".
    Thank you to you and your mervellous friends.
    A funny thing still too human!
    Francesca :-)

  9. Pingback: It’s Still a Very Good Year | 317am.net

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