Getting older was supposed to be easier than this -- more like a wonderful long vacation. But of course it hasn't been that way. My wife left me just before I turned 70 and I'm still not getting along with it too well a couple of years later. I don't have enough on social security to survive, so I still am working part time at my old high-stress journalism job. And becoming something of a lonely and grumpy old man in the process.
Yes, I have a lot more aches and pains than when I was younger. I am sometimes painfully slow traversing the hallways of my apartment and getting on the clanking elevator going down to my car. The good life in my dotage is eluding me. I don't just jump out of bed to face the young day with a great deal of enthusiasm. I groggily wake up each morning, gulp my coffee and hope for an easy time in the bathroom.
I suppose a good love affair would fix everything right up. But my last marriage was romantic, wonderful, exotic and adventurous for the first years. I traveled half way around the world to meet her. I am not optimistic enough to think that will ever happen to me again. I know abstractly it would make me feel alive again. I notice that on those rare occasions we meet and walk somewhere, my step gets a spring in it I otherwise don't have. But she's gone, and I'm essentially alone again, and it's not like when I was 19 and there was always someone else coming along, for better or for worse. Still, I have to believe in this big, bad world there is somebody for me. I'm not looking for her duplicate. I also know that married men don't cope with being alone as well as women, who are more communal creatures than us. But life goes on for us as well.
Now, it's my memories as much as anything that keep me going. My saving grace is that I keep writing, and in some ways I'm writing better than I ever did before. You do gain some wisdom as you get older. I'm not entirely sure what good that wisdom is, but it has to be better to have than not.
In an effort to improve my attitude I decided I would write this essay and attempt to fathom just what is underlying my ennui. And I know I'm not the only senior facing that ennui. Except for those fools blessed with an ever optimistic view of every thing, I think most of us suffer some discouragement, not only in our own lives, but our species' lives. Our first principle is to find purpose, but that's an elusive goal at times and never strong enough to entirely prevent that ennui.
I banged away at my computer for a while, but realized almost all my revelations were cliches. But cliches are cliches for good reason. They are often close to universal truths. But cliches don't entirely satisfy. Yes, we human beings are, despite all the talk about private initiative, amazingly communal animals. But it's hard to see that when you look at others and are constantly amazed at how diverse we individually are. Still, we are cooperative even in destroying ourselves or saving ourselves. I know I will not be around much longer, but my two daughters and a couple of my grandchildren are young enough that the problems of a disintegrating future will be very real for them.
Yeah, looking at this world, especially when you're on the diminishing end of it, can be depressing. Especially if you're alone and have no one to laugh about it with. I miss the better times of my marriage to my last wife. I know it's causing me to lose a sense of adventure. Perhaps I'll die by going to sleep one night and simply not waking up. Or I'll be driving my little Toyota and I'll get killed by a train at a crossing gate. I'll simply drop dead from a heart attack. Or suffer a long-lingering death from some incredibly painful form of cancer. Or all the water will really dry up and all of us in California will die of thirst. Or terrorists will blow up an atomic bomb over Los Angeles. The possibilities are endless. And for sure, one of them will happen to me, soon enough. For sure. It's guaranteed.
I don't think I feel entirely bad when in one of its ways death will overtake me. The basic thing of getting older is that time gets strangely compressed when its saved in that big data base in the sky. I also want to be superhuman and god like and never die. I want to always have the hope that salvation is just around the corner. She's standing at my door, knocking, asking to come in. I love sitting down in front of a computer screen or piece of paper with pen in hand, feeling like a God, because this human being can use words to create a new universe just like God presumably does. Life is wonderful and depressing at the same time.
I know people find their own happiness. Many are religious. I'm fascinated by religion, but find it hard to accept. My love of science, my rigorous way of being professionally critical is in great part because I'm a journalist. But I wish this wasn't always so.
I love the stories told by Martin Buber of the Bal Shem, the East European Jewish mystic who walked off cliffs and strolled across mountain ravines so intent was he in talking to the birds. Or think of St. Francis, especially the statue version of the animal-loving Catholic saint sculpted in front of the San Francisco Longshoremen's hall by Benjamin Bufano. Those are highly appealing images reflecting some sort of real truth.
I love their stories, even if I take it they are not the literal truth. And yet if I listen to Beethoven's 9th Symphony, or the Violin Concerto, or the Kreutzer Sonata, I can't help but marvel how the great master was able to put out such a rush of notes seemingly impossible to resolve, and do so anyway.
That was pure genius. Genius of the highest order. Bach speaks to the universe through the mathematics of the universe. There are those wonderful paragraphs by the great master Mark Twain, who would go wandering off on some fascinating tangent from his first sentence, and make it work wonderfully well by the period.
That kind of creativity matches those stories of God anytime, in my humble opinion.
So what does that all end up saying in the end? We live, we die. We can go through life just being consumers of products and ideas and philosophies and religions, or we can put our oar into the river of life, and take it to whatever universal portal it chooses.
Lionel Rolfe is a working journalist and author. Many of his books on politics, religion, history and music, are available at the Amazon Kindle Store.
We’re basically your best friend... with better advice. Learn more