“. . . I think something weak strengthens until they are more and more it . . .” (Kay Ryan)

The organist as a kid.

Portrait of the organist as a young man.

If anyone had asked me, say 20 years ago, if I thought I’d live to be 70, I would have said, “Of course.” The problem is, I didn’t expect it to happen so soon.

There’s no rule book for getting older (or, eventually, old). One of the unspoken regulations, however, is that you don’t talk about being old. If you want people to think of you as a person instead of a relic. Or don’t want people to think you’re asking for attention or special treatment.

I don’t think of myself as old. My friends hear me talk about being old all the time. What they (many of them at any rate) don’t understand is how much fun I’m having when I say I’m an old man. I didn’t expect it to happen so soon, and very little of my mind can actually comprehend that I’m 70.

When my father’s father was 70, my father was 40, and I was 10. When Granddad died, he was 92, my dad was 62, and I was 32. When Dad died, he was 97 and I was a few months shy of 67.

I’ve written here before about my cane. Yes, I fell, damaged my hip, and had to have surgery (not a replacement). Then when I was almost healed from that (physical therapy and the whole nine yards), I fell again. No surgery, but another 6 months with the cane. Now I’ve been without it for six months, and have been working with a trainer and getting stronger than I have been in 20 years.

The funny thing (“peculiar” not “ha-ha” as my mother would have said) about my cane is that it didn’t occur to me until I was at the fitness center working with the trainer, seeing myself in the mirrors that line the walls (are fitness freaks narcissists or masochists that they need to watch themselves?), and realizing that’s what others saw when they looked my way, that I look 70 years old. Not only 70, but not in good shape.

Who ever―except those fitness freaks―thinks realistically about what they look like?

“Realistically,” I said.

The cute guy in the picture at the top of this page is me. I was University Chapel Organist when I was a senior in college. 1966 and 21 years old. I think that’s what I think I look like today. Yes, that’s what I look like.

I can get away with that self-deception because looking out from this body, I don’t feel any difference in the structure or coloring or shape of my face. Or of the color and thickness of my hair. Or. . . . Unless I’m looking in a mirror, I can carry the memory of my 21-year-old face around with me and never notice that I’m fooling myself.

That may be one of the dangers of growing old. A certain ability to ignore reality. Or it may not be a danger. It may be a necessity.

Learning to live in my body as it is at 70 instead of how I imagine it to be is as elusive as it is necessary. Notice, I did not say learning to “accept” my body as it is. Part of living in my body is learning to take care of it. And learning that I need always to be trying to make it stronger, not always giving in to the natural weakening of old age.

My diet has been healthier for the last two years than it was for decades before that. I exercise. The basic is walking 2 miles every day. I have other routines that I do regularly a couple of days a week.

So my body and I are working together to make my image of myself as healthy and strong something of a reality.

But there’s something else going on.

Kay Ryan (she’s also 70, but she’s been Poet Laureate of the Library of Congress, and won the Pulitzer Prize, and has all manner of accomplishments) says that “As some people age they kinden” (they get “kinder” in case you don’t get the wonderful poetic license with the language).

I’m not sure I’ve ever been kind. In fact, I am a bull-headed, blustering, judgmental loud-mouth. I don’t like stupid people (if you are stupider than I am, you are a threat because I’m afraid I might discover that I really am as stupid as you are).

“Something weak strengthens.”

I hope so. And I hope it’s not just my glutes so I don’t fall again.

I hope it’s my kindness. I hope it’s my generosity. I hope it’s my ability to empathize with folks (all folks). I hope it’s my willingness to be vulnerable. I hope it’s all those weak things about me that looking in the mirror doesn’t show. Those things others see and like and might even be helped or inspired by.

I want to kinden.

“AGE,”  BY  KAY  RYAN
As some people age
they kinden.
The apertures
of their eyes widen.
I do not think they weaken;
I think something weak strengthens
until they are more and more it,
like letting in heaven.
But other people are
mussels or clams, frightened.
Steam or knife blades mean open.
They hear heaven, they think boiled or broken.

――Persimmon Tree: An Online Magazine of the Arts by Women over Sixty. Web. 2011.
http://www.persimmontree.org/v2/summer-2011/sixteen-poems/

(I would appreciate your visiting my other blog. Thank you.)

Portrait of the organist a couple of years later.

Portrait of the organist a couple of years later.

Mud or Jasmine, or, shouldn’t I know how to say this by now?

jasmineThis is about the life of my feelings that—were I a brilliant artist of some sort—I should be, but am not, able to create in a way that you’d understand without my having to be explicit. A painting, a short story, a chorale prelude for organ (except Brahms as pretty well exhausted that possibility). Something you’d find beautiful but not quite be able to pinpoint why it’s expressive or what feeling it’s about.

Something more noble than public kvetching. If you don’t want to hear about one person’s (pretty minor in the great scheme of things) difficulties, don’t read any further.

Yesterday I practiced the organ for two hours at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church where I will play the 11 AM service in the chapel on one of my favorite organs today. On the way to the church, I stopped at FedEx and made photo copies of the hymns so I won’t have to lug the fat hymnal around.

Therein, of course, hangs the tale. I did that because it’s ridiculously difficult to carry the Episcopal Hymnal 1982 accompaniment book walking on crutches. Those damned things were supposed to be outta my life by yesterday. They’re not. Day after tomorrow? If the PT says so. What a bother. My hip feels just fine (that’s a lie, but no one needs to know how it feels because everyone is sick of hearing about it, and—I think I’ve discovered—many people simply don’t want ANYONE, especially someone they like/love to be incapacitated).

The FedEx store didn’t open until 10 AM on Saturday, and I got there at 9:50 and had choices about what to do. So I waited, and then it took 30 minutes hobbling around to do the copying. So by the time I got to the church it was 10:30, whereas I had intended to be there at about 9. My own fault, obviously. You don’t need to point that out.

The practice was difficult. It’s been more than a year since I played a service. My hands are stiff from holding me up on the damned crutches, and the organ’s pedal board is flat so one has to stretch legs (even the one of which one is under doctor’s orders not to flex) sideways to reach low and high pedals.

I was feeling out of sorts—mainly because I wanted someone to at least commiserate with the way I was feeling, if not fix it.  I was feeling impossibly alone even though a friend had dragged me fewer than 12 hours before to see one of the finest movies of the year, “Mud,” starring Matthew McConaughey.

Yellowstone mud?

Yellowstone mud?

Now there’s a work of art that grandly explores the kind of small feelings I was having: loneliness, fear, unrequited love, physical difficulty, and frustration at the inability to accomplish a goal. Grand explorations of the (petty or simply insignificant?)) feelings I was having.

And then last night I saw “Blue Jasmine,” starring Cate Blanchet. The same feelings, the same angst, but with the twist that, while Mud accepts his responsibility for his impossible situation, Jasmine does not.

Of course, in neither case are the lines so clearly drawn. Responsibility, limitations, and damned bad luck get all intertwined with the actions and )limitations of others—especially the ones we (I, at any rate—don’t know about you—and Mud and Jasmine) love and want to be able to count on. Then, of course, there’s one’s own psychological and emotional and neurological make-up to contend with.

There’s a very real sense (and this is so commonplace I don’t know why I even bother to write it down, much less share it with you) in which the whole problem is that I (we, you and I) don’t want to be alone. Never mind all that stuff about how we were born alone and we will die alone.

While we’re here, we don’t want to be alone. And if we do want to be alone, we’re probably missing out on some aspect of being Homo sapiens that helps make sense of being here at all. When I feel joy, it hardly seems real or important if I can’t share it. And when I am frustrated, angry, frightened, or sad, if I can’t make a real connection with someone, it just gets the better of me.

???????????????????????????????To some degree that’s what both Mud and Jasmine are experiencing. And it’s what I was being overwhelmed with yesterday. I’m luckier, perhaps, than either of them. I get to go over to that big church and participate in the Holy Mysteries—no, silly, not the Eucharist! The MUSIC—and do that thing that I can always (yes, always) rely on to make a connection. Make a little music. It’s better when there is (are) someone (someones) to share it with that I really know and love, but even the connection with strangers will do.