Growing Old[Er]

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by Lucky Garvin

It was a sun-charged day; the air was spiced with scents of spring. I saw them as I sped by in my car. T’was but a passing moment: an old man with a poodle on a leash. He bent low to pet the dog’s head, though with his age-stiffened hand it was more of an affectionate thumping. His achy knees wouldn’t loosen; his back joined in the conspiracy to prevent flexion. It was an old man’s bend. [One with which I am becoming progressively acquainted.]

He seemed to be saying to the little dog, “Oh, you have to use the bathroom? I’ll turn my head then. Oh yes, take a moment and smell the grass. No. No. I’m in no hurry. Take what time you need.”

I thought about the full range, the texture and richness of the kindness I had witnessed. The mysterious dispensations of providence: the poodle given to the old man; and he to the poodle; a double-stranded blessing. The elderly live in a cold climate, I think; and this little dog is the sun that warms an old man’s heart.

During a cattle drive there are three positions:  scout, point and drag. Scout is way ahead; point is a bit ahead; and drag is way behind the herd. Son Cailan and I went cycling the other day. He rode `scout’; I brought new meaning to the phrase `riding drag.’ He would loyally stop and wait for me to labor – and sometimes walk the bike – up the hills. I could see it in his face, long thoughts stole over him, silent as ground-fog.

Part of the problem was a poorly adjusted bicycle, yes; and part that I hadn’t cycled for twenty years. But the large part is that I have logged fifty years thus far escaping the process of natural selection. My son had to wait for me. That must have felt strange to him. This realization forced its way painfully into his understanding.

This bicycle trip – this odyssey – was metaphor of his own odyssey. His all-powerful poppa is slowly growing older and weaker. My son is becoming stronger. That’s how human existence is. Go back as far as you will; look forward as far as you’re able: life is life.  Still, it must be a somber realization for him. No less so for me. I knew as a parent, I would model much for my children. Somehow, the realization that I would also have to model aging for them never once occurred to me.

Present day: No question; the mirror doesn’t lie: I’m getting up there. I was walking along the other day and some kid yells out a car window, “Hey, old man!” I looked around for the `old man’ in reference.  As stark fate would have it, I was alone on the street. But, I’m a bit far along for an identity crisis.

So, I’m getting on in years, starting to flake and, in spots, rust. But still, I wouldn’t go back to what I was in my youth; too much mis-spent energy; too many wrong directions…  And ego? The memory shames me. Still, I have no wish to out-live the average sea turtle. I live, I hope, on a small planet called `reality.’ I work towards this more private end: to finish my soul’s manuscript; and finish it well.

In the average lifetime there are but 27,500 days, and I have lived most of mine. Good news: the remainder are now the more precious to me. I’m sixty-five years in the making. [Never been this old before; but then, I’ll never be this young again.] The pages of the novel entitled ‘Garvin’ are gradually yellowing and beginning to curl.

Still, the old book don’t look too bad considering how long it’s been on the shelf. I regard my dwindling inventory of strength and youth philosophically. To my added inventory has come a dropping away of me-centeredness; there’s a gathering calmness within. Also, now an older captain, I view some tranquil waters with suspicion. Having sailed certain seas before, I remember the hidden shoals just beneath the surface; shoals which appear only on dated maps, maps unavailable to the young. This is called wisdom. In other words, just because a course seems safe and hazard-free, doesn’t make it so.

Pressed to honesty, most of us, even those not yet having our steps guided by the evening light of old age, sense the coming of our concluding years. Hopefully, I watch as my earlier need to impress others is gradually over-taken by a tranquility which leaves me better able to concentrate on what is truly important, and to be grateful for what is and what has been.

Look for Lucky’s books locally and on-line: The Oath of Hippocrates; The Cotillian; A Journey Long Delayed.