The article I posted here on growing nearly old evolved through conversations with good male friends this summer. One of them was Robert Morris who sent me this powerful response.
Finally, a moment to read and reply. There’s something nearly about that but I can’t quite get close to it.
I’ve always had difficulty with the concept of Nearly. Everything is nearly. Once it isn’t then something else is nearly and we look to that for our context. Perhaps I just want to be perverse. Perhaps I have never got to where I wanted to be so that yes, everything was ever nearly and that was as good as it was ever gonna get.
But I am taken by the exposure of us as individuals because age has taken away role. And it is shocking to find that the role was what there mostly was. It’s not just that it defined us. It was us. What were we before we adopted “role”? We were, by common consent, unmade. Role is what made us. Perhaps that what we mean when – at any stage of life – we go awol in every sense of the acronym, looking for ourselves. (Why we imagine we might find ourselves in Afghanistan is quite another matter and I can say that I was never nearly on that route. )
But this is seriously disturbing. When fully engaged in the world of work, of striving, we regard every other aspect of ourselves as secondary, slight, fanciful, indulgent. Now when we are old and denied our roles, we try to claim that this was all along our real selves and you must pay it due respect. No wonder we go gaga and are seen as daft by everyone.
Thing is our roles are easily valued. There are metrics that tell you precisely how valuable you are – wages, status mostly. Now we fall back on what is supposed to be our true selves, there is as much fantasy as anything. We may always secretly have been a golfer or a photographer or a playwright. Just how good are we now that’s what we are. How can you tell? I’m great at golf for my age. My brilliant photography is simply not acknowledged. One day my play will be on at the National, just you see. Does it matter? Not at all unless you are trying to replace your status with this stuff. Here in the South of France I am surrounded by 70-somethings. The most intelligent are the most content. There are some, ex-business men mostly, in a rage because no-one is much bothered by them any more. They have lost their status with their jobs. They’re not bright enough to find something else or simply come to terms with it. Life has become different. The values have changed. You actually hear them demanding “listen to me”, “stop interrupting” and slowly developing what can only be called a bit of a cob on. These are people who seem to be unable to have a conversation. Spent a lifetime holding court. It’s dull and irritating. But what has surprised me, and I don’t know why, is that the smarter ones seem to have developed social skills. They may well, actually certainly did, have important jobs where by and large people shut up and let them have the floor, gave due or even undue credence to whatever they said. Now in retirement, even without any noticeable substitute activity, they are able to share thoughts and ideas, slight and ephemeral or serious and important. It’s worth mentioning that they are not not neurotic. They come complete with all the tics and peccadilloes of a lifetime defending yourself from attack or implied threats. Prejudices also don’t actually change with age. The big thing is that unlike our glorious leaders, there is no element psychosis. They seem to be without any need to confect an alternative reality to snuggle into. Here’s a thing though. Apart from the occasional brief foray back to their world of work, they keep to themselves. They are a group of pensioners. There is, in this sense, no-one to other them. Furthermore, they are of course, already other in that they are foreigners in a foreign country. Maybe this, perversely, helps.
So here we go. We can come to terms with loss of external identity. We even turn into human beings interrelating just like adults. We can search out how to do this consciously, philosophically, spiritually. As well or instead we can find substitute activities. You write, I paint. You travel a lot. I live abroad a lot. The view from the window changes. Objectively I can see this works and am happy about it.
But there’s the snake in this Eden. At least for me. Work does more than give you status. It’s material rewards obviate existential doubt. We don’t need to ask what’s it all for. It’s all for the money because that’s what the kids and the bank need. Job done as it were. Now, well what is it all for? There’s no time left for for development. It is what it is and not much is gonna change. Are we, in actuality, just filling in time? Is the reality that post biological usefulness time-filling is all there is.So maybe the poets were right. We should, really should, behave disgracefully. Drink gin for breakfast and wear purple. Sadly and frankly the other disgracefulnesses are physically beyond us now. or at least disagreeable to behold enough to shame even the evolutionary redundant.
So raise a glass,