The other day I made reference to the fact that I would be unlikely to be flying anywhere in 2020, and might only do so in late 2021 — and for the first time in my life, I said to myself, “…should I live that long.”
I think the most depressing thing about getting old is that you get wary of making long-term plans — the old joke “I’m so old, I don’t even buy green bananas anymore” is a perfect example — and it can be depressing.
It doesn’t have to be, of course. A friend of my own vintage recently embarked on a business venture which involves a massive construction project, and when I asked him when the whole thing will be finished, he said airily, “About fifteen or twenty years’ time.” If that is true, he would be around eighty years old at completion date.
I’m not sure I would do anything like that. At the same time, I’m still buying green bananas, so to speak, so there’s that.
At some point in a person’s life, you become resigned to the fact that you’ll never climb Everest, or race at Monaco, or make a billion dollars, or sleep with some famous beauty (maybe because she just died). Those are the big dreams, of course, and mostly — realistically, even — just pipe dreams. Still, their disappearance is a little of a jolt; which is probably a preparation for a much bigger disappointment when you realize that your age precludes you from doing something that you did only little while ago. As an example, I’m most likely never going to be able to go deer-stalking in Scotland with Mr. Free Market, Doc Russia and Combat Controller again, because the trudging over the uneven ground of the Cairngorm Mountains is, to put it mildly, unthinkable. I made a joke about that with the guys during a telemeeting, the other day, and said that if I were to do it again, I would only ever shoot at a distance no further than 50 yards away from the Land Rover — i.e. close to the road — whereupon Mr. Free Market said bluntly, “Then you’re never going to take another shot” (because most of the stalks now involve a prospect of a mile or two’s scrambling before the deer even come within a respectable shooting distance, assuming they haven’t moved in the interim).
So goodbye to all that, then.
It’s even more poignant when you think of your approaching end with regards to family and friends, especially family. New Wife’s elder son has given her a grandson; my own kids’ prospect of doing the same is becoming more and more remote with each year. That, actually, doesn’t bother me too much as I’ve never been one of those parents who pushes their kids to provide grandchildren — in fact, I specifically told mine that I would never push them that way, and I’ve kept my promise. But it also means that I’ll never be able to do the grandfather things with grandsons that my own grandpa did with me, and that’s a little sad.
If you reach that point where you start making a mental list of “things I’m realistically never going to do”, two things are going to happen: the first is that you’ll give a mental shrug about some of them and say, “Oh well” and realize that the left undone isn’t important — I’m never going to fly an ultralight aircraft again or take my first parachute jump, for example.
But for the others: do not be surprised if some of them hurt (as in the grandchildren scenario above, for example). I will in all probability never meet up with some old and valued friends ever again, simply because of geography. I will never hunt bear in Alaska (see “Scotland”, above, for reasons) — in fact, I may never hunt anything again, except maybe high birds with Mr. FM next year — and even then, I’m going to need to save a bunch of money to be able to afford the trip, money that I’m not at all certain of making (see: Chinkvirus and similar disasters for reasons). And I might need not one but two years to save that money, at which time I’ll be nearly 68 years old. Fuck. I might not even be able to make the walk from the Range Rover to the shooting positions at that age, and my already-shaky and fast-deteriorating eyesight might make the whole proposition impossible anyway.
As one gets older, one’s options start to shrink. I watched a feature about Paul Newman the other night; he only started auto racing in his early fifties, and won his last race at age eighty. That doesn’t give me any hope at all, mind you, because Paul Newman was also a zillionaire, and lots of money does have an annoying tendency to make dreams come true a lot more quickly. For some old guy drawing a meager Social Security check and needing a side gig to make ends meet, those — maybe any — kinds of dreams become increasingly unreachable.
All of which makes the picture in my masthead a lot more poignant even than it was when I first chose it. I am wonderfully blessed by having found New Wife so that at least I can share the rest of my life with someone I love; but figuratively speaking, our age might just cause us both to be confined to that lonely bench because with age, options disappear, horizons shrink and dreams fall apart.
And what happens when you can no longer afford green bananas?