MIDNIGHT. A mouseblink at midnight then gone. The vapor of its breath rises, disperses, and vanishes. Midnight. But time and the river wait for no one and the flow is constant. Tick, tock, whoosh. Tick, tock, whoosh.
At once I am old. I don’t know how I got here, who brought me, and why. And further, if I could find the individual(s) responsible, it might be a lengthy conversation and— it just might get ugly.
As an artist of considerable years and experience, I consider my my perceptual acuity on such matters as human physiognomy and anatomy to be slightly above average. I’ve studied the human form and face most of my life. Even taught it. But as I look now it is painfully obvious that I have successfully outlived the adage of my youth: “Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse!”
Apparently I have failed to fulfill the adage. (But not for lack of trying.)
* * * *
When I was much younger, perhaps in my 20’s and 30’s, I openly admired Old Men and the bravado of their unique, artistically-freeing fashion statements. I would quip to my sister that I couldn’t wait to be old. It would be then that I could unabashedly wear the green plaid shorts with the over-sized red tennis shoes, while boldly sporting black nylon support socks. Add to that ensemble, a favorite gifted, (but grimy) yellow tractor hat pulled down tight behind my over-sized ears. For the pure sake of Cool, my extremely stylish accouterments would include a pair of huge box-shaped-wraparound sunglasses (As Seen On TV) with a homemade keeper cord that I personally designed and liberated from an old fly reel. My shirt, a very bright abstract Hawaiian number, would be tucked into my near chest-high belt from which the brilliant brass hasps of my rainbow suspenders would be secured— just to keep it all in place. A hand-hewn hickory cane would complete my look; the use of which would be more for protection than support; warding off yappy dogs and to bop small, disobedient, children as I saw fit. I would do a lot of directing with my huge, gnarled, hands, accenting all of my directives with a bent pointer finger while speaking in a raspy, over-loud voice. At the time, I thought this image was very cool, and I could mimic these heroes of mine very well, right down to the raspy over-loud voice. I loved to draw them (I still do) and continue to be captivated by their shameless individuality and character. Old Men.
Character. They were characters . . .
And now, it seems . . . I am one!
My stepson, Nick, says that I’m weathered. He sometimes says it with a certain measure of respect, so I’ve come to believe that there is a small, backhanded compliment somewhere within the statement. Maybe. But, by God, it’s true! He’s right! I am!
My wife tells me, Don’t think about it! You’re only as young as you feel! And all of the wonderful, loving and supportive platitudes. But I make old man sounds. Why? Because it hurts. What hurts? Everything! (Not a complaint— just an observation.) Then how do you explain this old guy in the mirror, I ask? I still love him, she chimes. Thank you, dear. It doesn’t help.
* * * *
Creatively speaking, it seems my most productive years are behind me; at least it feels that way. The energy is not there (it takes energy to do artwork) and all the wrong motives to excel have been put in perspective. Besides, for some reason (perhaps more than one) it takes me twice as long to do half as much! So do I work longer hours at this stage of my life while others my age work less?
For most of my time, I have only guessed that I would be this age and it would be just another year, but it isn’t. I look at myself in the mirror and am reminded of one of Rembrandt’s last self-portraits: a wonderful painting of an old man laughing, chuckling, almost mocking the fact that we all choose to deny: that we all grow old and eventually our time here, and all of that which we were meant to do, or had hoped to accomplish— is finished. Done!
Of course the process is dependent upon many factors and, in the end, we are blessed if we can live to an old age with a certain degree of health with some small amount of productivity. So many I have known and loved have not had the opportunity to see the years that I have been graced with. I am blessed. But now, as I look into the mirror and I see that blessed old visage looking back at me, I’m burdened with all those things that I have not transferred from thought process to finality. Those things that I had so passionately desired to do by now, that are left only as a sketch, or worse yet— a thought.
The knowledge that there is more life behind me there is ahead of me is a strange, somewhat anxious feeling, and I’m uncertain just how to accommodate it. There must be some advantage to the accumulated experience that one acquires from living a certain number of years. There must be!I must say though that I have a silent, sneaking feeling that I still need to tell a story. I’m not sure what it is yet, or which one of the unexplored, or slightly explored tales, I should tell— but I do feel the pressing urge to say something. Old men are good at telling stories.
The days, years and hours have worn out and swiftly fallen away.
Of course the lie is that we ‘have plenty of time left.’ That it can wait until tomorrow.
Untrue. The mother of all lies!
But is this it? Have I arrived, or is my destination obscured in the misty unknown that still lies ahead? Or, is that just my eyesight? Will the grip of this sense of urgency that I feel spur me on to complete my tasks, find new ones, or simply relax in the time that is left to me? Do I allow myself the presumed entitlement of retirement so readily accepted by our culture; one that I had never planned to have in my youth? (I can’t do that?) Or do I just get to work? Get busy! . . . Git-er-done!
Today is yesterday’s tomorrow . . . So many fish . . . so little time.
Just who is that old guy in the mirror? And what is he supposed to do next?
“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is left to us,” said Gandalf.
God? What would you do with the time that you have left to me?
Is it up to me? I think I have to make a conscious decision to live through old age.
There’s no getting around it.
In the end, I have been blessed.
(Did I say that already? Am I rambling? Old guys ramble.)
One thing is for certain . . .
I must stay away from the mirror!