I woke long before dawn thinking about old age; wondering if anyone who was really old could feel how old they were and I wondered what those feelings were.
For the old, Christmas is a day of memories and with any luck those memories bring back the joy that youth at one time brought but that seldom comes again with the same intensity. I'm beginning to understand why old people often feel reluctant to join in holiday festivities. I think most old people instinctively known that the best is behind them and what lay ahead is death and the end of it all: a life is finished and whatever chapters were inked or left unwritten, well, it is too late.
I think those with dementia are the lucky ones, every day for them is new; no regrets, no longing for long lost loved ones, no worries about tomorrow or agonizing over yesterday's mistakes; just today.
There is a quiet joy in living for each day and in the moment. Children live this way and when the adult world begins to creep into their consciousness, that precious time of magic is forever lost; never to come again unless perhaps, in old age, if they are lucky.
I often look into the eyes of the very old; sometimes I see a sparkle and that makes me relax with relief because I know that person has lived a good life and is gently cruising towards the end but without the fear that often visits in the dark. More often though, I see only emptiness, as though the shades have been drawn on that life and I can feel what they must feel and I think that what they feel is a kind of impatience that it all be over soon.
Children bring renewal to many of the elderly whose joy is rekindled in their last days by small sparks whenever the sunshine of youth alights nearby. Those lucky ones have the kind of final years that I wish for myself and for those like me who are getting older than they ever thought they would and yet somehow still cling to the hope that they will never get really old, so old that they are actually tired of living and wish it was over for them.
I know really old people who are tired; mostly tired of those living around them who keep trying to act as though they still have an exciting future ahead. I see something in their eyes and I cannot help but think that what they really want is just to be left alone with whatever thoughts still comfort them so that they may be able to think them in peace. Especially at holidays, the pretence of cheer is a mask often impossible to wear so holidays are simply something to get through and not as they once were --something to embrace with the fervor of youth.
Perhaps I am being too maudlin and there are those who are aged and yet who still find joy in each day and who still long for those holidays where they can be a part of the celebration and cheer, but I haven't yet met those folks and so I can only think about those I have met.
When I was young, I never understood the aged or what comes with getting older. I was naïve; thinking that age was a state of mind and that it was possible to control the state of one's mind just by wishing it so. Age is a state of mind, but not the way in which I thought. As you age your mind is a scrapbook of every moment ever lived and each experience is etched and so.
If life has been a series of disappointments, the aging mind often remembers each. Often time does not heal, it simply magnifies past disasters so that with age comes an unwillingness to keep trying or to keep living life to its fullest because that life has never been full, only dull, years spent mostly by the daily effort to get through life; a life never spent really living at all.
If the journey has been filled with successes, that mind retains the liveliness and curiosity of the world and one's place in it.
May we all experience not the former, but the latter, as we near and enter that inevitable place called old age.