Monday, 24 February 2014

Staying Alive

'A man doesn’t have time in his life
to have time for everything.
He doesn’t have seasons enough to have
a season for every purpose. Ecclesiastes
was wrong about that. ‘

So starts the poem “A Man in his Life" by Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000). I am inclined to believe him.
The Seven Ages of Man - sculpture by
Richard Kindersley

Last week was an unusual one, I spent four days running exclusively in the company of people well past retirement age, both friends and strangers. Meetings of the poetry group, the German conversation group and an 88th birthday party fell on consecutive days. Topping the whole thing off was an afternoon in the waiting area of the busy Lucentis clinic, which treats eye disease.

Shrunken shanks, bellies and boobs gone south, sensible shoes and elasticated waistbands, bony, shrivelled frames as well as well-fleshed ones, spectacles, hearing aids, walking sticks, all were in evidence. Groans sitting down and getting up, a sure sign of 'getting on a bit’. I must remember to avoid that in future.

The people in the waiting area were a sad lot, uniformly grey and old and rather shabby. The threat of losing your sight is a wretched business,  we know the feeling well, so I may have to forgive them their air of doom. All the same, I doubt that they have done all they want to do, seen all they want to see. Nothing to look forward to?  I bet not a single one of them is ready to call it a day.

The members of the poetry and language groups certainly haven’t had season enough for every purpose. There is much left to learn, their enthusiasm for art and literature, poetry, travel and music is undimmed, their pensionable age notwithstanding.  All use the internet freely, all have young families to enjoy and instruct, all follow current affairs and have well defined opinions on anything that goes on in the world.

The birthday party was probably the one with the greatest tally in years and hearing aids. If you are eighty-eight most of your friends are old. But the party spirit was undiminished; glass of wine in hand, a plate with a few small delicacies precariously balanced on a knee or a side table, the guests enjoyed themselves. Plans were made for future entertainments: “We should all chip in, then nobody has to do all the work”. Although the laughter was a bit throaty, the conversations shouted, and the anecdotes no longer fresh, the company was well and truly alive. There are seasons to come. Life is sweet. Cram in as much as you can, it’ll still be too soon when it ends, and you go to that place where there’s endless time for everything.

A man needs to love and hate at the same moment,
to laugh and cry with the same eyes,
to make love in war and war in love.
And to hate and forgive and remember and forget,
to arrange and confuse, to eat and digest
what history
takes years and years to do.

To be honest, I prefer my company more mixed, a variety of ages; I wouldn’t be happy living in a retirement enclave. But there’s nothing wrong with old age that a curious mind, an active life and a glass of wine with a friend cannot cure.


  1. I enjoyed reading this, Friko. As always, you write with a vivid, shrewd and honest keystroke.

  2. Depends how young the minds are, I think. I know some awfully staid thirty year olds....

  3. Your last sentence is what keeps me going. As long as I have friends to laugh with and enjoy some of the blessings in life, I will remain young at heart.

  4. Well said. I wear hearing aids and I'm not entirely over the hill yet (pushing 70). Genetics. And maybe a little rock n roll. I've been really busy of late learning traditional Irish gigs, reels and waltzes so as to perform at several venues locally for St. Pat's Day with a group of fiddlers and an odd accordion or two. I'm the rhythm guitarist. Great fun and keeping me on my toes. But, I sure could use a nap.

  5. we need our teach one another any way...
    life does too soon end...we live while we can...

  6. You touch upon something I think about almost daily now, specifically, the indignities and challenges that come invariably with aging. Nothing to do, really; just press forward with a sense of humor and the prospect that, whatever our age, there is always to possibility of new discovery, perhaps even transcendence.

  7. Thank you for prompting me to find all the lines to "A Man in his Life, especially the last lines:

    the bare branches pointing to the place
    where there's time for everything.

    I have a dear friend who is thriving in her early 90s. She traveled to Vietnam when she was 90 years old. Her son had died in Vietnam in the 1960s, and her husband had suffered increasingly from alcoholism until he found sobriety in Alcoholics Anonymous in the late 1980s, and she began going to Al-Anon where she was able to come to terms with her grief over their son's death and to celebrate life.

    In Vietnam, she met Vietnamese women who had lost their sons in that war, and she found a lasting peace within herself and a deep bond with Vietnamese mothers. I talked with her a few days ago. She is a vital and healthy woman with a curious mind and an active life. I wonder what she would say if I asked her if there is time for everything in life.

    I also recall a friend who died of ALS in early 1990s, before he was 40 years old. He wrote that there was so much more that he wanted to do, but he knew that meant he had a full life, and he was grateful that his life was so rich with ideas and plans and dreams.

    Thank you for this post. You've given me plenty to think about today.

  8. I am also inclined to agree with Yehuda Amichai. There is never enough time to savor it all, is there?

    And how I do like being around people younger than myself, at least some of the time! When the conversations only revolve around medical issues and other people's grandchildren I only want to go home and turn on some loud music.

  9. "But there’s nothing wrong with old age that a curious mind, an active life and a glass of wine with a friend cannot cure."
    May I use this quote?

    You speak eloquently to JUST the things that scare and fascinate me these days. Was that final poem yours as well? Thank you, Friko


  10. My Oma was blind for the last 11 years of her life. One thing she always requested was the family announcements read to her, and she often knew the men and women whose death was in the paper. When she was nearly 80, she kept saying "Mit 80 g'hört mr eifach weg", "At 80, people shouldn't be here no longer". I always found this very presumptuous of her - who was she to decide that life wasn't worth living past 80? Of course she could speak for herself, and of course being blind and needing so much help when all your life you were the one to help others must have been very, very hard to bear. And yet, there were still so many things in her life that were good, if she allowed herself to think about them: she still had us (her family), some close friends, lived in her own house with no financial worries, was able to get up, wash and dress herself, make tea and breakfast, and so on. Sometimes I found it very difficult to cope with her constantly pronounced death wish. She died three months before she would have been 84.
    It is refreshing to read about people who are not like that in their old age!

  11. Hello:

    You paint a very vivid picture here in words of old age in a variety of different conditions and situations, some of which, we imagine, we should all wish to avoid.

    Very strangely for us, living here in Budapest, the majority of our friends, and that includes very close ones, are much younger than we are [mainly in their late twenties and early thirties]. They enrich our lives immeasurably.

  12. You need to read this Friko. I think you'd appreciate it, because of Roger's outlook.

  13. My father-in-law became blind in his 60's and accepted it with grace. He had a terrible temper and was maudlin at times, but never about his blindness. I had to admire him for that. I have to be around people of all ages...each overs an insight.

  14. I have met some very old thirty-year-olds and some very young eighty-year-olds :)

  15. Oh my
    this post gives one much to think about.
    In these late 70's and super active
    it is diffiicult for my body to keep up with my mind.
    Still trying to accept
    all that is happening.

  16. You Friko would be my kind of pal. A person to be chummy with and meet for coffee, dinner or go to the theatre or museums or just sit with a cuppa' n chat. I like your frame of mind and I always enjoy your posts - you have a wonderful gift to share paragraphs of words with others- I think that it doesn't matter the age of an individual - it's because one stops exploring and playing and enjoying life itself. I enjoy mixing with young and old - last year a young girl said to me - "You are "Way Cool" - I'm 70 and I'm "Way Cool" :) ha,ha Of course that made my day. I find that when I am around mixed ages, there is always an adventure or giggle or some great knowledgeable understanding just waiting to happen. I truly enjoyed this post Friko - Have a wonderful day.

  17. Hooray! After a week of not being able to comment on your blog (or was it two?!) I can! And while I read, I missed saying how much I always enjoy it. Today's post is no exception. You know, when I was young, people in their 60s-80s weren't -- not just because I was a kid but because they did very "old" things. No one was hiking or rafting or engaged in discussion groups. It's a new world out there and you are so right -- there will never be enough time. I keep thinking I have X amount of years left. I don't know what X is, but I know it isn't time to cover all the territory I want. If I ever stop exploring or learning or trying to exercise some creativity, lock me up! I probably will be beyond the point of caring and I hope that never happens! Like you, I like all ages. Have young friends to keep you lively and company when all yours die off and older friends so you can learn from them and truly be a friend when they are in need. I'm lucky to have both.

  18. Friko, I have enjoyed reading this post and the earlier comments, too. Like you, it is unusual for me to spend concentrated amounts of time with people older than I am, although most of my days feature quite a mix of interchanges with varying generations.

    People are interesting! Even folks who might initially seem boring can gradually or ever suddenly reveal some unexpected aspect.

    How fortunate I am to have had the great pleasure of being able to chat with you. How I look forward to being able to have more of these opportunities in future. For's just swell to be able to have the internet.


  19. Life only ends when you quit living. I wouldn't want to live in a retirement village either. Old age needs youth about to stay young.

  20. What a great post -- so well written.


  21. I'm with you on this. I also prefer company of mixed ages. Yet, being with those older than I can be so inspirational. I intend to live while I'm "still under the sun." (Also from Ecclesiastes.)

  22. The combination of age and wisdom + youth and inexperience will always enrich both.

  23. Friiko this is an extraordinary blog. We rarely write about age with a keen and true eye. Years ago we pretended that age equates with wisdom. For most of my lifetime we have turned away from age spotted hands and ulcerated legs and pretended we can all hold onto youth if only we try hard enough and spend enough money. Here is truth.

  24. Loved this post!! There are people who are chronologically young that drive me bonkers with their dire pessimism and elders who delight me with their wit and insight. Good company can be found anywhere (as can bad--LOL!). You write with much love, Lady. :)

  25. Great post, Friko! And so true that probably the best social mix is a true variety of ages. I'm finding that whatever the allure of a retirement community was at the outset -- was it quiet or camaraderie or what?? -- has diminished considerably. There are so many reminders all around of what is coming. Like you, I had a jarring wake-up moment in a doctor's office this past week: I went to a lung specialist for a routine visit (my lungs were damaged by a near-fatal disease in childhood). The waiting room was a depressing collection of the consequences of smoking: people connected to oxygen, either gaunt or gigantic, in wheelchairs and carts, mostly unable to walk. I think I was the only ambulatory patient there and the doctor smiled when he saw me. In comparison, I'm in the bloom of health. Scary!

  26. Hallo Friko,
    ich kann mich meiner Vor-Kommentatorin nur anschließen: Great Post ! Zum einen war es toll, bei dem 88. Geburtstag dabei sein zu dürfen, zum anderen toll beschrieben, wer alles bei dem Geburtstag dabei war und wie viel unter den Stein-Alten erzählt wird. Der Ausdruck "future entertainments" hat mir besonders gefallen, dass man auch in solchen Lebensjahren Pläne schmiedet und nach vorne schaut.

    Gruß Dieter

  27. We had a gathering like that last week. David at age 84 was the oldest in the room, but the youngest was in his 50s. Much fun. Parties are better now. Dianne

  28. My dear Friko, you feel and write so well. A fountain of lived wisdom. If I didn't have such a weird enjoyment of life - even in adversity - I'd cry.

    Not least because you have tapped into one of my three fears - namely losing my eyesight. Should that ever happen I'd fear for myself. That would just about be the icing on the cake. My mother's words ringing in my ears that to read under your duvet with only a torch to keep you enlightened would lead to grief in years to come. I am sure it will.

    As to cramming it all into a life time. You can't. The moment I understood that calm descended upon me, in the shrug of a shoulder. So what? Mainly, and this is a bit of a shocker of a thought but worthwhile reflecting upon: Once we are six foot under nothing matters (other than for those of our survivors who care about us). Whatever you have stored up in your brain, in your heart, in your soul you'll take it with you. And that's it. I find it oddly comforting. Though am beginning to think I should make a written inventory of life before I go blind. As you know the clever woman thinks ahead: Years ago I bought a Sony voice recorder. Just in case.

    I sincerely hope that before either of our lights dim I'll have the chance to meet you, Friko. Unlike WWW I am not yet the wrong side of sixty. So there is a good chance. Woe will betide me on the evil day that signifies that most horrendous day in my life's calendar. Fourty, fifty, seventy, eighty, even 120 is fine. But 60? Thanks, but no thanks. Touch wood, Friko: Knowing my luck I'll probably drop dead a day before. Just to spare me.


  29. Your last paragraph sums up my attitude too and it's what has kept my mother-in-law so youthful in outlook to the age of 90. On the other hand I've known people who were middle-aged in their teens. And yes, there will never be enough time for all the things I want to do and learn.

  30. Sometimes in the mirror, 73 looks ancient to me. I can still see that well, at least. But yesterday, a vivacious 16 year-old hugged me suddenly just because she liked my book. Then, she and her mother were gone, leaving me convinced, that on some page, we are the same age.

  31. I agree, I enjoy the company of mixed ages but I enjoyed reading this post very much.

  32. In theory ,mixed societies are best and contact with young people keeps us young . It depends ....
    A long , if not always coherent , conversation with Small Grandson yesterday was very rejuvenating , his giggling is very cheering . On the other hand , talking to his six year-old big brother can make me feel very old . I had to Google "boy-band fringe "after the last call

  33. Dear Friko, strange that you write about aging now and the continual desire most of have to do and be and live and see and use all our senses to embrace the world around us. I'm in the midst of thinking about all this also. My 78th birthday is just over a month away and I find myself filled with so many dreams of what I want to accomplish before my death. My nieces and great nieces sometimes seem to me to be unaware that I continue to dream. They seem to feel that my life is fixed and in place and done with. For myself, I continue to know that the seasons come and go within me. Some fleeting; some reluctant to leave. And yet there is more. The poem "Ulysses" by Alfred Lord Tennyson has always been a favorite of mine and the final six lines or so pretty well sum up where I am in my thirst for continued adventure. Peace.

    1. If I remember correctly -- "to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield".

  34. I read once that Helen Keller said that of all the senses, her hearing was what she would like to have, that she could picture in her mind a soft grey shawl, but she couldn't imagine the sound of a bird call or a child's laughter. (That's not a direct quote.)

    Like Dee, I find myself with a list of things I'd like to accomplish. What if we come back in another life with only what we have learned in this one as tools for survival?! Times a'wasting!

    My husband just began reading War & Peace. :)

  35. It's when I look round at the assembled elder company that I feel better about myself. Btw I commented on your next post last and forgot to duly admire the boots. Wear them though!
    Blessings from Dalamory

  36. Hi Friko - too true ... and I certainly feel the same way .. I need to be curious and be around life. Cheers Hilary


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