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March 11, 2022

Retirement and old age: two merciless bullies

That’s right, I have finally met them. Retirement and old age – two big bullies that go hand in hand. They come at you without warning, as violently as a bee sting right in the centre of the forehead. Old age announces its arrival with sharp pains. Worse, after a few parting gifts from co-workers, you suddenly realize that your 10 fingers are now idle. Thank God, writing saves me; the fearless words bubble up through the ink and strengthen my resistance.

But how much longer will I be able to live the life I want? To eagerly await the future, certain of its brightness? Will I still be able to fulfil my dreams? See Paris again? Go to the opera for the first time? Visit Iceland and its many volcanoes? Attend my grandkids’ weddings? Go back to Hawaii? Publish my Sunday letters? Write more? Again and again, until the pen releases its last drop of blood?

Old age is relentlessly taking hold of every square inch of my frame. It digs its way into my flesh, leaving it flaccid and wrinkled in deep folds. Worse than a powerful tide, it leaves its rippled marks all over my fine face. Will I still think the woman in the mirror attractive? How shall I react? How do I re-emerge as someone I still recognize? Might this late bloomer still be the mistress of her future for a long while yet?

At what age do we lose our confidence in the future? Both my parents died before they became old, so I had no opportunity to observe the failing body. Will I suddenly die like my mother from a head-on car collision? Or like my father, from an aggressive cancer? I didn't see their bodies slowly fade away. And what will my own infirmity be like? Will I live to see a hundred? The statistics give me hope. Old men everywhere seem to look younger and younger; grandmothers seem increasingly dapper.

I am too greedy and extreme to not go on living despite everything. Even if my bones occasionally object. This fall, for one long week, I couldn't bend over to pick up a baby bird that had fallen from its nest or a fork that had landed under the table. It was as if a troublesome devil had put fire to my lower back. I was reluctant to sit down, let alone stand up. And the devil left as quickly as it had arrived. I have always tolerated pain well, but I must admit these new assaults have shaken me. Will the wear and tear on my body affect my daily activities such as my morning walks and errands or running after my great-grandson, taking road trips to the Gaspé or cooking for 20 people?

I often think that at my age, it is no longer the destination that matters but the daily ride that enlivens our orbits. Learning to cherish the moment is perhaps the greatest lesson of old age. Let's celebrate the small daily victories such as taming a crow, talking to the majestic fir trees and letting the dawn unravel our dreams.

I have been doing the “Daily Thanks” exercise for some time.  It consists of noting 5 things each day that I am grateful for. For example, 1) Thank you above for the bright sunshine today.  2) Thank you to the new neighbour who finally said a warm hello. 3) Thank you to the Greek mother-in-law for my especially tasty lentil soup.  4) Thank you to the creative genius who keeps the words coming so I can write this letter to you. 5) And a big thank you to you, dear readers, who encourage me to be the person I am.

Always an optimist, I allow the waltz of time to keep my curiosity alive. Accepting to grow old is like setting off on a journey to an unknown destination. We are no longer at the helm of the ship; we move forward with eyes half-closed towards an unpredictable future.

Is old age really a golden age, or an age of fissured clay? And where does this free gift of life go? Trembling and toppling when the fateful hour sounds?