It wasn’t like me not to, but I never questioned why I wanted to drive across the country by myself at age 74. My friends thought I was crazy.
That the trip was a journey into my past wasn’t surprising, and mostly incidental. Besides, travel is usually that, even if it’s just a walk across the street.
I knew it was a test of some sort, but there are many people who do much more challenging things at a much greater age. I wasn’t going to be awarded any medals.
Of course, travel is supposed to be a learning experience, but there must be better ways of doing that than driving at 80 mph on Highway 80.
Roni Bennett, who authors the blog, Time Goes By, and is, I think, one of our most important thinkers about old age, on-line and off, is writing a series of posts about a conference on “Connected Aging” at Rhode Island’s Business Innovation Factory. Its aim was ”to look at aging differently…” They worried that continually “framing aging through the lens of care and increasing weakness” was blinding us all to other possibilities.
The question that emerged from the meeting is “How do you want to live?”
It’s a tricky question because “weakening” seems to be inevitable. For example:
I lose many nouns a day when I talk. Try talking with words dropping out! You can practically touch what they refer to, you’re so close, but the word won’t come back. Thank god, I’m not generally verbose.
I’ve always been an absent-minded person, liable to lose an umbrella before I ever get around to using it. As the trip showed again and again, if I lost my way in the past, now I’m worse, maybe much, much worse – I can’t really tell.
And the dollars and cents of life! The forms that need filling out, the bureaucracies that hold telephone, internet, insurance, taxes, even ordinary stuff like furniture, hostage until you cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s. Those things have always thrown me, and now…!
Anyway, I suspect the “growing weaknesses” are inevitable.
I think I’ve been trying to figure out “how I want to live.” Kind of testing the limits as it were.
So, back to the trip. My sister and I were in Denver, crossing and criss-crossing highways. It was the worst traffic I’ve ever seen. The city of my birth was completely beyond me. When we found the little house we’d lived in as children, the profound gap between past and present became unbridgeable. I remember when my father planted a bony tree in the yard with a shallow depression around it for rain water. I dreamed I rolled into it, and woke up out of bed and on the floor. Now the tree—was that the tree?—had turned into something large, uncared for, messy. Our simple neighborhood had become a slum.
Our best adventure was a visit to Red Rock—the first time on the trip that the earth had been turned and tumbled. While the eastern United States and most of the midwest have been rubbed into soft undulating forms, or just flattened out, much of the West exploded from the inside out, the earth splitting, rocks emerging, grotesque with the violence of their birth.
In answer to the question: how do you want to live? – it’s not only the trip that’s been about learning how I want to live. I’ve spent my whole life learning that. And now that I’m old, I want the same option. I want to spend the rest of my life figuring out how I want to live. I want the choices, the possibilities, the tomorrows—until it’s all over.