Well, it happened today. Got my Biblical three score and ten, and started my 8th decade of life. Folks like me tend to tease about that, saying things like “The mind says, ‘Sure!’ The body says, “No Way!'” But in the real world this is the time I begin to think that I really am starting to enter my old age. Just starting, to be sure. But starting, nevertheless, and somehow it seems appropriate to reflect on that.
I have heard some folks talk about getting old as a disaster…or if not exactly a disaster, then at least something unfortunate. I am not one of them. I think of becoming old as an honor, not conferred on everyone who is born. Not even everyone who graduated from high school with me lived to see their 60th birthday, let alone their 70th. And so, no disaster-thinking here. I am humbled to realize that I really am seeing my 70th birthday. Thank you, life! You have been good to me.
“But,” I hear those folks over there in the corner saying, “when you reach 70, you’re that much closer to death!” True enough, but what’s your point? Death is not something that concerns me. Of course, my death is out there waiting, stalking me, as Carlos Castenda’s Don Juan Matus would say. And some day, some how, my death will find me and embrace me in its arms, and I will die. I fail to see why that should be something to worry about. It is inevitable, is it not? Why should I be upset or even concerned with things I cannot avoid. My death will happen. OK. But isn’t my life more important than my death?
“But what about all the losses you will face as your death approaches?” Yes? What about them? Again they will happen. They are already starting to happen. Cataracts? Growing. Hearing? Fading. Not a lot, but enough for a hearing aid. And BPH. (Men my age typically sing “You gotta pee when the prostate says pee!”) And when get ill or injure myself, it takes longer to heal. And so it goes. And none of this is going to get any better.
Because what stays the same over time? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. So why should my body be any different? It will change, too, and as it ages the changes will be toward a weaker, less efficient body. Why should I worry about that? Why should I even complain about it? As the Buddha teaches, attachment leads to dukha. (Look it up!) No. I’m not worried about the weakening of my body. It is also inevitable. Got more important things to concern myself about than things I can’t avoid.
This is not to say, of course, that I will not get new glasses when I need them or a second hearing aid when the time comes. Nor will I decline the medical interventions that actually will enhance my life. But I will decline medical treatment when the prognosis is likely to be terminal. I will not want treatment; I will want palliative care. No one is going to cheat me out of my death.
You see, I love my life. All of it, from beginning to end. I’ve had my share of disappointment, sorrow, grief, and pain. Of course. Who hasn’t? And I’ve also had my share of joy and success and and love. It’s all one great big package. Accept the one and you get the other. Reject the other, and you loose the one. That’s the way it works. And so as I love my life, I also love its end. Which will come in its own time. While I wait, I intend to live, as fully, as freely, and as joyful as I can, embracing whatever lot happens to fall to me. And when my death does embrace me, I intend to return the embrace.
Death is just not the big issue. Life is.