You know those cartoons where the pursuing villain suddenly has a car fall from the sky and land on him? Or a big boulder, or a tree. Kersplat!
That’s old age. There you are tootling along, minding your own, and others, business, clear path, distant horizons beckoning, not, as has been the case, a physical care in the world, when Whammo!
The future was always another country. Some distant, unfamiliar country that other people lived in. Needed a passport, I thought, to get through Customs, cross the border. Not so.
Always used to being the youngest in any room. Suddenly the lights went off and when they came back on, hey, who is this old fellow in the corner? No gradual process, no time to get used to the idea, adjust, practise being old, just Kaboom.
Past is another country? Nah, past is same-old same-old, been there done that. Wearing a younger man’s clothes, sure, but you’d recognise him in the street, compare notes, have a chat about shared experiences. But the fellow wearing the older man’s clothes? Would you recognise him even? And what would you talk about? Sickness? Hospitals? Infirmities? Loss? Disappointments? Failures? You, young fellow, haven’t experienced those, have nothing to contribute, have no more to say than if confronted by an old fellow who had fought in wars, experienced the Great Depression, lived through plagues, droughts.
And yet, suddenly, there you are, in a pub, at a party, and you are the old fellow holding forth to the young folks whose eyes are already glazing over. They have no idea of old age, also hanging over them like Vesuvius over Pompeii in 79 AD.
Shakespeare knew all about it, heard the volcano rumbling, though it rumbled not for him, dead at the young age of 52. He was just in his Fifth Age:
And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part.
But he had watched others, and knew what came, after the triumphal but brief years of maturity, next:
The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
Well, ain’t that the truth? Go to bed one night with round belly and wise saws, wake up the next morning sans everything. Old Age comes as a shock to every generation. Need perhaps to pay some old people to chant, as you walk by, bouncing along, full of joie de vivre and bullet proof:
Remember me as you pass by,
As you are now, so once was I,
As I am now, so you will be,
Prepare for death and follow me.
No, not next week, you foolish man
Tomorrow, and you have no plan.
Or, more simply, a sign saying “Beware, large, old man troll ahead with big club”.