I’m a sixty-five year-old, white, American male, and it’s not lost on me that I’m right in the middle of a population group that suffers from a high rate of suicide, one of the highest, and I’m trying to understand why because I don’t want suicide to happen to me. So I’ve been reading about suicide and I know from my own experience that depression overtakes an older person more frequently, more severely, and for longer periods of time than it attacked that person when he was younger. If you want to keep on living – and I do – you’ve got to look at suicide without flinching so that it doesn’t have a good chance of getting you.
I regret many of the things that I did, or didn’t do, when I was younger. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and rail in silence and with shame at how stupid and thoughtless I was and have been and sometimes still am. But I’d rather remember the regrets and feel the pain from them than ignore them (which I don’t think I could do anyway). I don’t dwell on my stupidities, for I can’t go back and change anything, but I take note of them.
Remembering what I did and realizing that how I have lived has forced me to be humble, and I’ve learned (or better said, discovered) that the world doesn’t revolve around me. Of course, the notion that we’re the center of the universe is attractive and easy for people to believe, but it’s just not so. What I do and what happens to me is of little consequence – none, really – except to those who care for me.
Even though age and experience should bestow upon a person knowledge, wisdom, and skill – you find that you read more carefully now, and maybe you can write better too (and by that I mean that holding the pen in your hand, you become more honest with yourself), perhaps you look at the world with more understanding, maybe you get along better with people (not because you want to be buddies with them but it’s just easier to avoid needless hassles), and maybe you’ve become a better teacher – you still find that being alive is a struggle more than it’s ever been.
I think how quickly the last twenty years have just flown by, and then it strikes me that in ten more years I’ll be seventy-five, and I know that that time is going to fly by even quicker. I’m not old yet, at least I don’t think that I’m old, but if I keep on living – and like I said, I like being alive – I will become like the old people I see hiking on the mountain, taking their time, moving slowly, not concerned with getting to the top, but just getting out for a little sunshine, and enjoying the day. (Hmmm. I do that.)
Even though I take long walks four or five days a week, and exercise and stretch and watch what I eat (well, mostly) and don’t smoke, and drink not too much, and climb the stairs more than I take the elevator, I know that I’m not as spry as I was even five years ago. My eyes aren’t as good as they used to be, my hearing is fading, I wake up in the night every two or three hours to piss because my bladder is not as elastic as it used to be (that’s what the doctor said is happening), and I’m mindful of my teeth and find that I must spend more time – and money – at the dentist.
I should not complain, considering that I still get around okay. I’m in good shape and maybe I will get ten or fifteen or even twenty more years of life from this body. But I’m not as concerned with the years that I may or may not get as I am with making what time I do have worthwhile by continuing to learn new stuff I never knew before and striving to do good work.
Gradually, and then all of a sudden, you realize that you don’t have any control over much of anything that goes on around you and that you never really did. All you can do is put forth good effort (even though you realize that you still spend a lot of time chasing folly) and do the best you can with what you have.
Though I’ve gotten nothing published in any of the big magazines (even though I’ve sent them lots of stuff) writing about the things that happen to me, putting it on paper, reading it, and then reading it again, is the best way I know to discover what I’m feeling and thinking – even, so, I know that I might be lucky to get just one-percent of it right.
I’m okay with the way things are going for me. Yes, things could always be better. But they could be a lot worse. In spite of everything, I’m still having fun trying to learn new stuff and trying to get better at the things I do, and that makes life interesting enough so that I want to wake up tomorrow morning and keep on living.