Memories of our youthful abilities, and faith that we can perform the same can keep us staring straight down the axis of time as though it has no dimension. Periodically though, Father time swings his axis for a glimpse of where we’re really at. For many, the reminder is reference to World Wars, how long it’s been since they ended, and how many veterans remain. And over time, a few other sobering facts filter in, keeping time’s dimension as a more permanent spectre. Did you know the last American Civil War veteran passed away in 1959 and many young adults were born after Y2K, the year all our computers were supposed to explode.
Thank God for medical science. Many of the chinks in our armour can now be patched and we can enjoy longer lives, and extend life until 3D imaging captures our last gasket blow. Natural causes no longer seem to be the catch all, and decisions to prolong life are frequently left to next of kin. Without medical science, Old Harold might be a puddle of muck under the turf feeding the deep reaching roots of common weeds. Many maladies now have a pill or can be fixed with replacement parts from joints and disks to plastic lenses for your eyes. Other illnesses not cured can also be stalled, or genetically mapped to await funds for orphaned disease research. Advances in medicine have or are close to tackling many of the big killers leaving an infinity of minor or chronic ailment combinations to keep our GP’s on their toes. Ya, not many of us over 50 go to the doctor with just one complaint, and either rehearse or write down all the things wrong with us to make sure our bases are covered…as the one thing you miss will undoubtably flare up the next day requiring an unscheduled visit to a walk-in as you can’t wait four weeks to see your ‘real’ doctor.
Aside from medical miracles, we can be our own physicians and follow the Hippocratic Oath primum non cocere meaning ‘first, do no harm’. We can look after ourselves by moving and keeping nourished to get the most miles out of our chassis by burning the right fuels, supplementing when needed, frequent mental/physical health checks/exercise, and by not pushing the limits of our frame or safety systems. As my old prof at the U of A said: do everything in moderation as even drinking too much water can kill you.
Our lives are marked with milestones with greater frequencies at the beginning and end. From first breath to words, first tooth, inoculations, weaning, first solid food, first steps, first solo on the toilet, first bike, loss of training wheels, first skate, first grade, first pubic hair, first bra (or voice change), first boy/girlfriend, getting driver’s license (on at least the second try), first car, first job, first spouse, first house….to forgetting words/people, loss of hair, loss of teeth, last solid food, move to the lodge, last solo on the toilet, loss of driver’s license, last steps, first scooter, last breath. The trickiest milestone of them all, however, seems to be the abyss of retirement (if you can afford it). A time when ‘must do’ changes to ‘only if I want to’ and loss of purpose can grease the downhill side.
Old Harold is standing on top of the hill and can see the past with selective clarity and the fog of the future. He hears John Wayne saying “a man’s got to know his limitations”, and trying to figure out how to push the limits. What was I going to do when I retired, and what can I actually do to enjoy my golden years? Is the glass half full, half empty or just left on the night table awaiting my first set of dentures?
Old Harold’s dug himself out of some dark mental holes in the past and my salvation has always been to compare my circumstances to how much shittier it could have been, and how helping others can help myself. Yes, our bucket lists need some “must do’s” with sense of purpose, and if it’s in service to others it might stack the reincarnation deck…if you believe in that sort of stuff. Which reminds me of a philosophical discussion once had by a horse trainer with a farrier shoeing one of our horses. The farrier asked the trainer if he believed in reincarnation, and the trainer said he didn’t really know but one thing was for sure, he didn’t want to come back as the fresh mound of horse shit steaming beside the farrier’s foot, to which the farrier replied, “don’t worry, you can’t come back as the same thing twice”. And a corollary to the story is….even if you’ve had a shitty life, it doesn’t mean you won’t come back as a dung beetle, so you might as well try to boost your odds.
Peace out. Harold.