One Piece at a Time

Aging is usually a race of depletion between your money and your marbles. That’s not to say both can’t evaporate in concert, though most people now tend to outlive at least one or the other. It’s interesting how oblivious the public is to the historic novelty of this dilemma. For comparison, our antebellum forebears only lingered for 37 years of life on average. That’s probably one reason no human being then ever called another one “racist.” There simply wasn’t enough time to waste on it. And that wasn’t the only blessing of living briefly. Men who check-out without a gray hair usually do so with their faculties and a full wallet. Live long enough and we all become husks. Advanced medicine is here to make sure that’s what gets buried.

I’m not really complaining. If 37 were my expiration date, I’d only have a decade left. At least that’s about what the guy in the mirror looks like to my eyes. It’s funny how he never seems to age, but somehow I do. Why have only our self-perceptions found the fountain of youth? I started asking myself that question after participating in a video conference a few weeks ago. One of the panels on my computer showed a man whose face had folds deeper than the trench lines at Verdun. Mystifyingly, my name appeared above his image. Startled by this haggard hideosity, I rushed back to my mirror, which reassured me that my youth remained fully in bloom. What a relief.

Though it’s not just odd characters on video conferences who are subject to the abuse of time. Worse than our own personal desiccation is the withering of loved ones. And the most grueling of all is seeing it happen from the inside out. That’s the result when marbles lose the race to mortality; there is no more insulting defeat. To watch those who have been a pillar of your life slowly recede into a face that barely recognizes you, is to curse the silent thief who has taken them. Because you barely even knew to say goodbye. And once you realized it was time, there was no one left to say it to. You can’t even recall exactly when they stopped being entirely them. But while you weren’t looking the relationship inverted; you have become the responsible adult and they the dependent child. Life is a maelstrom, and senses leave quietly.

Thanks to both modern medicine and society most of us will enjoy many years of being called racist past 37. And while reflections remain impervious to temporal concerns, our bodies and minds unfortunately do not. That’s why I hope each of you take opportunities to enjoy the people and moments you have. Sometimes they are taken from us like Johnny Cash stealing a Cadillac: one piece at a time.

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15 thoughts on “One Piece at a Time

  1. Pingback: One Piece at a Time | Reaction Times

    • It might just be me, but I honestly can’t see my age in the mirror. While in contrast, it was apparent on the computer screen. Similarly, most people can’t hear the accent or peculiarities in their own voice while speaking, but can when hearing a recording of themselves. One other is that practically no one mentally registers the most prominent feature all day in their sight line: their own nose.

  2. Prayers to you and your family, Porter.
    Time is a very funny thing – days go from dragging on to over in the blink of an eye.

  3. This year was the first I noticed that I was not only getting older, but actually aging. A nation creaks forward on the backs of its 50 year-old men, or mules, whether tradesmen, clerks or shepherds. The day we collectively sit back on our haunches the gig will be up and civilization will have had it’s last breath. I mean, who will pay the child support?

  4. We live in a time when something runs in every family. Dementia is undoubtedly in the category of the nastiest of things. It robs everyone. Christopher Hitchens once remarked that if he accepted God on his deathbed, it wouldn’t really be him doing so, but a new permutation of him. That’s what our dementia sufferers come to be; not themselves but new incarnations that inhabit what you so aptly describe as the husk. It’s perhaps some comfort to know that they are mostly gone, and the burden is mostly ours to bear.

    I hope you and yours can find peace and comfort in what has to be a tremendously difficult time.

  5. I’m unaware of any formal prayers from history beseeching God to take us before our Mind leaves our Body. Medicine has out-paced liturgical theology, it seems. A friend, a devout Christian, very disciplined and rarely drinks, has half-jokingly stated his intention to rev it up around age 75. He may be on to something.

    Peace to you and yours friend.

  6. Best wishes to you and your family in what is doubtless a difficult time, brother. I’m in my early 30s, and am lucky enough to still have all 4 of my grandparents, obviously well into their 80s at this point. Work took me away from home after college, and I haven’t lived where I’m from in 10 years. In my minds eye, when I think about what they look like, I still picture them how they looked before I left, when I saw them frequently. Every time I go home and see them its like they’ve aged 10 years, seemingly over night.

    Speaking of home, this post is a timely reminder that I need to load up the kids and drive up there again, soon. Don’t know how many more times my kids will get to see their great grandparents, and I’d really like my kids to remember them. Be well.

  7. AG: Yeah, I’ve got a general timer on how much I probably have left in life. Gauging by my own family history, 75 may be the point by which I’m not buying any more green bananas.

    Gator: Fantastic. What pride your grandparents must feel to see three good generations behind them. I think I only met one of my great grandparents. I once watched her wring a chicken’s neck and cook it for dinner.

  8. I have a magic mirror too….but alas, not a magic camera. I am not exactly sure how it works, but I swear my visage looks quite youthful in my mirror; not girlish perhaps, but certainly not matronly—but a photograph, ah, that is a different matter entirely. And like your other readers, my best wishes to you and yours. My mother is ninety and just beginning to appear befuddled on a fairly regular basis. It is heartbreaking to witness.

  9. That’s why they’re called “vanity lights.” Erase those shadows that so painfully demarcate the advance of Time, marching like some slo-mo Napoleon across your mien. Digital photography, on the other hand, never fibs.

    (I figure I can use a 10-peso word like mien on this blog)

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