His family gathered today to celebrate
his seventieth birthday. Now presents opened,
the blaze extinguished, cake consumed, it is late
in the day. His grandson approaches. “I’ve not spoken
with you today. What does it feel like being seventy?”
“Old!” “Well, what’s the worst thing about being old?
Is it not having sex anymore?” “There are plenty
of things that I miss more than sex. Have you been told
everything about the facts of life at thirteen?” “Gramps, I
am sixteen!” “Sixteen already? Time surely does fly.”
“At my age it crawls. Say, have you given Viagra a try?”
“Humph, hope in a bottle. Many use it - hard to see why.”
“Is the worst thing maybe your body falling apart?”
“Actually, no. It is bothersome - joints ache and swell;
your muscles weaken; for various conditions you start
each day with a dozen pills; you slow down; you tell
yourself to be careful not to overdo, but you adapt, you
manage to get along okay.” “Is it slowing down mentally?”
“Ha! You’ve been talking about me with Grandma. True
I am not as sharp as I was once, and more than occasionally
I forget some things, like what I came into a room to get.
But, no, that’s not the worst. Tell me this. Of your peers,
how many do you expect to be alive in twenty years? Let
us guess almost all. Not my peers! I face grief and tears
as loved ones - kin and friends alike - will get sick and die.
It is becoming my routine to visit hospitals, then to attend
funerals, to lose another from my life. The elderly may try
not to dwell on it, but age inflicts wounds that can’t mend.
Just imagine you and me are on the Serengeti plain, sitting
under our own Baobab tree. Whereas your tree is empty,
mine has quite a few vultures perched, patiently waiting
for the lion of death to come and thin the herd. Do you see?
Every year older means more vultures perching in my tree -
its branches sag with their number. The worst thing in being old
is being afraid to look up because of all the vultures you’d see…”