I don’t know about y’all, but I’ve been feeling raw as an oyster these past few months, enough so that I’m listening to podcasts by the TED Talk-famous Brené Brown and trying to parse out feelings about what we’ve lost and what we’re grieving. In effect, we’re grieving the world as we knew it, and with nothing yet to replace it.
Said feelings of vulnerability are not really being helped by an underlying sense in some of the discourse around the Dreaded Covefe™ of 2020 that’s focused on how it’s OK for the old folks to die, as long as we get the economy going.
Not that I’m considering myself an old folk just yet, though there are mornings (and doctors’ appointments) that remind me it might be right around the corner, but it does remind me how little we actually do respect our elders. Native Americans/First Nation People place their elders in positions of respect, listen for their wisdom. In America, we push them out in wheelchairs and leave them at the bus station if they can’t afford to pay the freight of the nursing home.
What raises my spirit back up, thinking about this, is the knowledge that many of our elders swing into the seventh, eighth, even ninth decades of their time on this blue ball with knowledge, skill, and wisdom that allows them to create at a level most of us could only hope to match.
I think of John Huston, the director of that great gangster film Prizzi’s Honor, which he made at age 79. Pablo Casals, the great cellist, played and gave master classes into his eighties, played at the White House at eighty-five.
Harriet Doerr published her first novel, Stones for Ibarra, at the age of 74. Lawrence Block, the prolific crime writer, published his (approximately) hundredth book recently at the age of 89. I give you also Maine’s own Ashley Bryan (96), Willie Nelson (87), Betty White (98), and Stirling Lord, who recently started a new literary agency at the tender age of 99.
I’ve been as guilty of youth bias as anyone, especially when I was a youth myself. And there is a great deal to be said for energy, freshness, even naivete. But when we discard out of hand the contributions someone has made, or could make, because of their age . . . we’re sliding down a slippery slope. That kind of argument begs the question of at what age one becomes irrelevant to any conversation about art, creativity, music, entertainment, or any of our pursuits.
As an eldering person, I plan to keep pushing as best I can, stretching what I know and what I don’t know, keeping on with whatever it is my lizard brain is trying to get me to do. What I will not do is give up because I’m being ignored or diminished because of age. I hold fast to a quote I’ve heard attributed to Pablo Casals. When someone asked him why he practiced the cello sixteen hours a day at age 95, he said: “Because I think I’m making progress.” This is the man who rehearsed a set of Bach cello suites for twelve years before he thought himself worthy of playing them in public.
So excuse me if I don’t buy anyone’s desire for me to step off the planet in favor of a younger demographic. Or to get the economy back on track, for cry-eye. I do plan to die at my desk, like Robert Parker, and I don’t intend to give up on the work. Because I think, maybe, I hope, I might eventually make some progress.