The accumulating infirmities of ageing are reported in many ways, from dry medical descriptions, movies about septuagenarians orchestrating a heist, complaints and/or descriptions of geriatric ailments on social media, and jokes.
One of my favorites is about a conversation between two old guys in an elder care facility. Let’s call them Pete and Mike.
Over coffee, Pete says, “By the way, I hope you can make it to my party next week to celebrate my marriage to Hildegard.”
“Hildegard?” asks Mike. “She the one that lives four apartments over—the one with the goiter?”
“Yeah, that’s her all right,” says Pete.
“Oh. So what have you found so attractive about her. Looks can’t be the major selling point. Is she a great cook?”
“No,” says Pete. “I promised her we’ll eat out almost every night.”
“Well, then, is she a great housekeeper—keeps the place spic and span?”
“No,” says Pete. “She insists that we have someone come in to take care of that.”
“Well, then,” says Mike, “I blush to ask, but she must be great in bed, right?”
“Couldn’t say. Haven’t tried that yet.”
“Okay. I give up. What’s the attraction?”
“She can drive.”
Enough of that. There’s another aspect of ageing that I want to touch on.
Now firmly settled in my ninth decade, I’ve noticed that while I am getting slower, I also have more time to be slower. That, in turn, allows me to focus on micro rather than macro cosmic things, resulting in my being more easily entertained than in earlier days. Little things now can bring great pleasure.
Our house black bear, Clyde, has a strong interest in our bird feeders, which has caused me to elevate them to places about fourteen feet above ground so he can’t reach them. However, Bonnie visited us in the past and two of her four cubs easily climbed the poles and knocked down the feeders. So, perhaps as a foolish precaution, I take in the feeders at night, fill and replace them each morning. It takes a little time to do that.
Consequently, since I am working to feed the birds, I feel they should entertain me.
During the winter, we watch them from a window. But as soon as morning temperatures go above fifty degrees, we grab coffee and sit on the patio near the feeders listening to birdsong and hoping for a rare sighting. Let me be clear. Nancy and I are not dedicated birders. We are lazy. We don’t go to them; they come to us.
Today, May Day, was a special day. The drab olive-green goldfinches of winter completed their metamorphosis into yellow gems, standing out like golden brass bells against an ebony tube of thistle seeds. We saw a brilliant flash of blue and russet red from a pair of blue birds leaving one of the bird houses cleaned just a few days ago.
And, silhouetted against the morning light, a lady hummingbird hovered motionless above plastic flowers offering red sugar water. She stayed and sipped before preening her fluorescent feathers in full sun on a fence near us.
For the past two years, about this time, a rose breasted grosbeak and his mate have come to visit for a few days. Today we saw our fair-weather friends again.
For us, there is joy in all that. Daily concerns disappear. We can live in the moment.
As unneeded reinforcement, the New York Times just published an excerpt from a posthumous writing by Dr. Oliver Sacks in which he identifies the healing power of gardens. He also says that even for people who are deeply disabled neurologically, nature can be more powerful than any medication.
I think that works as well for those of us who are not deeply disabled.