Tag Archives: newposterous

Essays on aging, from Oliver Sacks, on my birthday

 

 

It’s my birthday. I’m into my seventh decade. Born in ’61, now 61.

 

My first decade was one of being shy and smart and tall and skinny and bullied. My second decade was one of growth: growing out of everything, from my clothes to my hometown. Cruising into my twenties I became independent and anxious and happy. By my thirties, I became responsible. In my forties, I became lost. In my fifties, I was crushed.

I expected worst things still to fall on me in my sixth decade, and I was surprised instead by things that uplifted me. Where I will land in my seventh decade, I don’t know. On good days I look to remain open, on bad days I hope for a close.

In all that time, with rare exception, I have taken off every day since I started working in the early 80s. Often those free days were filled with simple pleasures. Mixed in with that was some contemplation.

I think two good things to contemplate on this day are these two essays by Oliver Sacks. One was written when he was still vibrant and turning 80: Opinion | The Joy of Old Age. (No Kidding.) in The New York Times. The second one when he was dying of cancer not much more than a year later: Opinion | Oliver Sacks on Learning He Has Terminal Cancer, also The New York Times.

What impression they will leave on will depend on your current perspective. I encourage you to move around, literally and figuratively, to have to best perspective on life that you can have. The days will be what they are, regardless. How you perceive them depends on where you stand and how you look out.

On having fallen from the grace of god

Having walked for seven plus years, having lost so much, so much dead, so much broken, he accepted he had fallen from the grace of god. He walked through the years, and recalled them, picking over broken things, things he had built now gone, things he had saved now lost. He had walked for seven plus years and lost so much from the lack of grace from god. And he despaired, and fed the fires of despair. And when his despair had burned away, he looked around once more and saw what still remained, what was good, what could be built up. And this was the true gift, not this thing or that, not the vain hope of never losing. This vision was the gift. With this vision, he could see that he had regained the grace of god, though it had never left him.

The joy of being out of and in a storm at night

There is a joy of being out of a storm at night. You can listen to the wind blast and watch the trees whip while the rain or snow fills the air. You can experience that from inside a warm room, dry and safe. You can think: thankfully I am not out in weather like that. It is a pleasure to be sheltered in such a night.

There is a joy in being out in a storm at night. Dressed well, you can move through the elements, complimenting yourself for being able to handle such weather. Even in a big city, you will have little if any company. If you do come across another hardy soul, you can nod and smile as if you met another member of your secret society.

There are not many things that can bring joy no matter how you experience it, but a storm at night is one of those rare things.

The man who couldn’t think

The man came up to my son and I outside the theatre tonight and asked me about the hockey gear I was holding. I explained it was a gift to my son who would be playing hockey in May. No, the man said, hockey was ending. I tried to explain to him that it wasn’t. He listened very hard, and I could see from his eyes that he was trying to piece this together, but in the end he came back to telling me that hockey was done. He could not think through the additional information and work it into his understanding of the world.

When I was younger, I would have said that the man talking about hockey was deficient somehow. That he wasn’t normal. I believe now that this ‘normal/ not normal’ thinking is deficient and when I think that way, I am not thinking myself.

We are all struggling to understand the world we are in with the facts we have and the abilities we have. We all have varying capabilities to understand, and each of us has our own weak spots. I know I have sometimes been the man who couldn’t think. I have been the man who, when told sometime obvious, could not process it like others could.

We all think what we can, with the brains we have, the memories we retain, the facts we are given. There comes a time when each of us runs up against some limit of our brains, either temporally or permanently. There comes a time when we too become the person who cannot think.

Thanks for reading this