As I write, it’s October 31st. My 84th birthday is scheduled to arrive in six days, on November 6th. Inshallah, if God wills, as our Arab-speaking siblings say! Which brings me to the fact that I’m feeling, in the words of this retired English professor, pretty elegiac. Every fall, when the first cold weather arrives, as happened here last week, the top number of my blood pressure tends to rise significantly. (My 17 years in Hawai`i have obviously taken their toll.) Often, I also get sick around this time—not badly but always enough to get my attention. This year it was several days of pain in my lower abdomen plus chronic fatigue. Sounds like covid, right? My test, however, proved negative. Fortunately, both symptoms are now gone...
Other recent incitements to my nostalgia about growing old include the increasing frequency of what I call “brain blips.” It’s the usual drill: forgetting words and names of people and things. But it’s also putting out the wrong garbage cans on collection days after having just checked the collection calendar in our kitchen or going up to my room to fetch my reading glasses, bringing down something else instead, and having to do an encore performance. This kind of thing is normal for people my age, but I’m aware that their frequency is increasing with tide-like inevitability. All this was no doubt intensified by our recent visit to relatives in the Pacific Northwest. The wife is in early-stage dementia. She’s 75. This formally intelligent, articulate person is reduced to parroting phrases like “Well, what can I say?” and, during a short road trip, asking every few minutes “Where are we going?” Conversations with her are no longer possible, although emulating her endlessly patient and loving husband was clearly the thing to try to do. This situation also reminded me of my late mother, who would have been 120 years old today had she lived. The poor thing went into dementia in her mid-70s as well. She all too soon developed Alzheimer’s disease but lived to be 95 and a few months. My older sister, who lived with and cared for her until her death, was a true martyr. Then, on returning from our 12-day trip, even after a relatively short two-and-a-half-hour direct flight, I realized how exhausted I felt. In earlier years even trans-Pacific flights didn’t seem to bother me. That was then. As Baudelaire wrote, “Où sont les neiges d’antan?” “Where are the snows of yesteryear?”
Strangely, my memory works fine for foreign languages which, as I reported in an early blog, I study on duolingo.com as a form of daily brain gym, and also for recalling snatches of verse committed to memory decades ago. Here’s a short example of the latter that, not surprisingly, has resurfaced recently. It’s one of Wordsworth’s elegiac Lucy poems: “A slumber did my spirit seal,/ I had no human fears:/She seemed a thing that could not feel/The touch of earthly year./No motion has she now, no force;/She neither hears nor sees;/Rolled round in earth’s diurnal course,/With rocks, and stones, and trees.” But hey, I’m still here, rockin’ if not rollin’!