Staying in the Life Outside

When summer turned to fall, the old man closed the window, not because he was cold, not yet, but because he thought he might be cold soon. And he didn’t want to be found lying dead on the bedroom floor in deep winter with snow heaped around him, the pipes in the house all frozen. It would make people think he was demented, not just old, and he couldn’t have that.

He didn’t know how many days or weeks he had left, so it was better to close the window now and just be done with it. So that’s what he did.

Then he waited. He sat down and waited. Many things had surprised him in his life but death wouldn’t. He knew it was coming. Any minute. The window was closed.

When I turned 65, I felt like I had been diagnosed with a terminal disease and had only ten years to live as a relatively healthy person and possibly another ten years as a demented bother. Twenty years tops, I thought, ticking them off. There would be no more extra time for me, what I had already lived needed to be sufficient.

Let me tell you, sum certain is so unpleasant after a lifetime of sum sufficient. Depressing, airless.

Noticing the increasingly stale air, I kept finding new ways to accommodate, putting out fresh flowers and cooking things with cinnamon. I can get through this, I thought, I just have to be mindful of the time I have left and use it very carefully. Be serious about my devotions, spare in my commitments, focused on exactly the right things. What are the right things, I’d ask, and then realize that asking was itself using up precious time and space. The meter runs faster when the cab is parked.

If I am feeling this way, other older adults are as well. Millions of us are sitting on our upholstered death rows looking at our closed windows and wondering why it’s so fucking hot in here.

We have only ourselves to blame. We decided to close the window in anticipation of a short, unpleasant and fatal future. Remember, we don’t want our dead frozen selves to be covered with snow that blew in through the window we failed to close because we refused to anticipate the inevitable.

What if we ditched anticipation altogether? Anticipation is just dread spelled with more letters. Should our remaining time on earth be dreadful?

I realized just today that I could live thirty years in this state of anticipation (dread). I could end up spending a third of my life watching the life on my street through a storm window.

The waiting will kill me. I just figured that out.


7 Comments on “Staying in the Life Outside

  1. I have had this tab open to comment for days. The delay was caused by a profound depression washing over me with the realisation that my window feels closed, but not by me.
    An older partner, whose travelling days are done, and this gypsy soul can hardly complain after she has trailed him around the continents to new lives in new cultures with new languages, on a regular basis – my idea of heaven. My idea of living, really.

    • As I go through stacks of old pictures the last few days, I get that pull of the things we used to do but I’m so glad we did them. We didn’t put things off (well, some things) but we truly enjoyed our time. It sounds like you have, too.

  2. Yes, I think ever since I read about the two parts of old age, 55-75 and 75-95 I have been approaching this point. I am turning 75 in May. I resist the idea of a “bucket list” since it seems to be beside the point. I do, however, find that I am much less driven than used to be and more able–albeit only once in a while–to appreciate the moment.

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