I've been thinking about life lately. (Oh, how unusual.)
More specifically, about aging.
As I approach my 48th birthday in three-plus weeks, I've had a bunch of reminders that I live in a "ten-fingered space suit," as Ram Dass calls the human body, which is starting to wind down.
Looking back at musicians of my era, these past few days, sure reminds me I am not young. Neither are they. Even the very energetic Bruce Springsteen doesn't leap onto his piano anymore.
Not to be ghoulish!
It's a long, slow decline (I hope), but I'm definitely on the down slope, and aware, as William Shatner said to Jonathan Ross: "You're gonna die!"
For a kicker, Bink sent me this as her choice for her Anthem of Youth:
from the punkish girl band Tetes Noires, "Lucky Girl" (1985)
Does this ever bring back memories...
Bink and I used to go see this local band play--I guess we were even kinda groupies, if trekking across town on the bus to a crummy dive by the railroad tracks counts. (I vote yes, as I am not normally one for bars full of drunk guys.) I still own a recording of theirs--on audio-cassette tape.
As a general reminder of physical vunerability, this past Saturday, Karla, the wonderful haircutter who suggested I construct starship 379--after decades of running outside year-round (which is really saying something in Minnesota) and completing dozens of marathons without injury--slipped on a patch of ice and smashed her arm and hip.
Physics really works--falling while running on concrete breaks you. Of course, Karla has no padding to cushion a fall. I would have bounced a bit.
I went to see her in the hospital yesterday, and she looked like she'd been hit by a car. She has a pin in her arm, and they had to operate to repair her broken-apart femur head.
(If you're a praying sort, please add her to your list. She needs her arm and leg to do her work, much less to run, so she's in for a hard row here, for a while.)
II. Hey! Wait a Minute!
Then, last night, I had dinner with a friend and we talked about the role hormonal changes are playing on our mid-life moods: mostly in flare-ups of anxiety.
Not too bad if you think of this as a normal glitch in the machinery. But still, it feels unfair that when the cycles of menstruation have become so ho-hum you barely notice anymore, bam! here comes menopause.
This having-a-human-body trip is really weird, and the female body is an especially wild ride. I know guys who say they feel more or less the same every day, day after day. If any woman feels that way, I have not met her.
III. Ball Three
Further, in the past couple months, three people I know have lost a parent (to death, that is, not, alas, to a gigolo or cocktail waitress in the Caribbean).
I've never been freaked about death. In fact, it always intrigued me--maybe partly because my mother was always half in love with it. I wrote my senior paper on Saint Ambrose and the Theology of Death. Later, I studied to be a funeral director, but dropped out, appalled at the prospect of having to understand insurance forms.
As my own body gets noticeably closer to it, however, though I've always been disgustingly healthy, I admit that it's a little freaky to think this game will come to an end.
In industrialized Western countries, life expectancy hovers around 75 years, for those lucky enough to be "average." I figure each span of 25 years is like one of three balls in a pinball game. I'm just about to start my third round of play. Which does give one a little pause...
(Sports, what do I know from sports? I think I may be mixing up baseball's 3 balls with pinball, in which it looks like maybe you get 4 balls? But they don't make Star Trek baseball games, so I'm sticking with pinball--anyway, that's the simile that struck me this past summer, long before I knew there was a Star Trek pinball machine.)
IV. Vaclav Havel, The Universe, and Everything
At the same time, wow, what's happening to my brain: I love it!
Maybe it's not my biological brain per se, which science assures me is losing gray faster than my hair is gaining it. Maybe it's my soul or spirit or whatever non-locatable thing it is that governs the getting of wisdom.
I don't want to make any outrageous claims here--when it comes to equanimity and enlightenment, I'm gotten maybe up to Toddler. Maybe.
But it's all relative to one's own self, and I compare me now to myself in my early twenties, around the same time I was enamored of the Tetes Noires, when I despaired of ever knowing anything about god or love or the names of African nations. When older people spoke of these things with some surety, I didn't think, "Oh, one day I'll be like them."
No, I thought, "They belong to another species."
Here's what happened the other day that delighted me along these lines:
In my first efforts to understand Slovakia, I decided the time had come to try again to read Vaclav Havel, the playwright who became the first president of Czechoslovakia after the fall of communism in 1989.
[Havel, far right, with Lou Reed, 2005, from a review of Tom Stoppard's play Rock'n'Roll]
(Havel's Czech, but Slovakia is all tangled up with the history of Central Europe, so you have to look beyond its particular borders of language and cultural identity.)
I'd tried to read something of Havel's at that time, and found it heavy going. So I picked up a book of his essays with some trepidation.
Twenty years later [gulp], it's easy reading, more or less.
I practically leapt with joy. (My bad knee.)
I've evolved into a member of the species that has some clue about geopolitics! I know where Bratislava is! And I have a enough of a sense of Spirit, for myself anyway, that I though some of what Vaclav said about The Omniscient bordered on twaddle.
I also find the energy fluxes of life don't blow the fuse of my equanimity as often as they used. And I've become a halfway decent judge of human nature--for instance, I've gotten pretty good at gauging the danger level posed by unusual folks on the bus. (Almost always far lower than I used to think.)
This "love" thing though, I don't think I've gotten any better at that. Dealing with people you have to share a bathroom with--well, in fact, I've backed off from even wanting to deal with that.
V. Game Over
I don't know. Maybe that love stuff is for another lifetime. Grappling with the Trinity and the map of Africa and may be enough for this one. We don't get endless pinballs, after all.
But it's some game, eh?
I'm really looking forward to this birthday: I'm pretty sure I'm getting The Economist Book of Obituaries. (The ex-parrot!)
On we go!
[Star Trek Pinball Machine pix from My Star Trek Scrapbook.]