One thing that we all have in common is: growing old. It can’t be denied. Some of us go through it gracefully; others stamp their feet and pull out their hair. Some of us are in denial; others try to meet it head on.
I, for one, cannot remember growing old past the age of 19. Yes, I know that there are smidgeons of memories. The first years on the kibbutz, marriage, parenthood. Milking the cows, becoming a teacher, taking on social responsibilities, leaving to live in the desert. Creating a meaningful environment by connecting the world through educational initiatives and then entering into cultural and intellectual stagnation. What is left? What might have been, what was, and what will probably no longer be?
There is no point in crying over spilt milk. Whiskey is a good substitute. But not even whiskey can fill the place of all of the things that have gone missing. Most people would say that the main problem is me. They may be right, but I am not willing to let the world off that easily: not quite yet.
I don’t recognize the face that I see in the mirror each and every morning. Nor can I imagine what people see who call me father, grandpa, husband and son. Do they recognize in me something that once really was? Or have I drifted away, leaving them with anything that they may want to paint into that image?
I admit that I am not growing old gracefully. I feel the desire at times to kick and scream. Although I find myself gradually slipping further and further into passive acceptance, or better said: the desire to toss it all in.
The problem with all this is that the memories get in the way. They creep up on you and pounce at the oddest times. Some memories make you feel invincible; others leave you feeling increasingly feeble. Sometimes we chase after memories in an attempt to rediscover misplaced nostalgia. But more often, we seek to avoid them. Although there are things that can never be ignored. Why is it that we have this obsessive urge to connect the dots, as if we can harness the neurons in our brain and make them do our bidding? When all that we accomplish is a more fractured sense of self.
And there are times when our memories seek out our own self-destruction, as they did this Yom Kippur. Wandering down to the Volunteers’ Beach at the kibbutz by the sea, I was reminded of midnight swims past, when we ran down the hill, discarding clothes on the way, following a ritual of song, chocolate milk and brandy. The calm midnight sea allowed us to walk deep into its arms, each of us seeking out a special niche, as individuals we still were, with no thought of growing old. It was called the Volunteers’ Beach, as opposed to the Members’ Beach on the other side of a stone cliff, as it was a place where almost only kibbutz volunteers would go. Perhaps because mothers didn’t like their children, and especially their husbands, to ogle at the topless Scandinavian volunteers.Or maybe it was because of the strong currents and undertows at this section of the sea. But we could navigate those turbulent waters. We were invincible.
And now it was Yom Kippur. The waves were sweeping in, crashing down upon the water’s edge. I imagined myself to be 19 again and out I went. The thrill of riding the waves. Water sweeping over me. The sea flirted with me and drew me out further, until I felt the undertow taking control of my legs, pulling me to where there was no bottom and to where there was possibly no way back. As a 19-year-old, I would have had no problem swimming out of it. But now it appeared almost poetically fitting that I would meet my maker on the Day of Atonement, when I had really thought that I could wind back time. But no, it was not to be this day. The human intervened and I was pulled to safety. And now there are two layers of memory, with one mocking the other.
So what is there beyond growing old and dwelling in the memories? Looking at the glass half empty, I suppose that my greatest fear is in becoming impotent: both physically and mentally, with all that that entails. For when we begin to question the reason for going on living, we question our very existence.
“Write another book,” some of you say. “Isn’t that a part of the legacy that you want to leave behind?”
Maybe. But what should I write about? Old-age? They say that you should write about something that you are intimately acquainted with. But I feel that I have said all that I have to say about old age. And now it is me, staring at the wall, wondering if I still have a voice, or why it should really matter if I do or don’t.
I know, it’s starting to sound like I am dwelling too much in self-pity. That was not really my intent. But what was my intent? I am too senile to remember. As for you, what still provides you with the quest for life, despite your growing old, despite the inevitable? Are you willing to share your secrets with us?