Notes to my future self: to be opened in my dotage

Well, you made it. You didn’t die of colon cancer in your fifties. There was no tragic incident with an elevator and a hair dryer. Friends and family do not drink a toast to your heroism. The way you threw that child from the burning building before the floor collapsed. Congratulations. You made it into old age. Now what? Below is a series of tips I send to you while in my semi-prime that may help you navigate this territory with a certain amount of realism and panaché.

Use your walker

I know every time you grab the handles, it is a reminder that you will never dance the rumba again, never push up and out over the court in one smooth fluid motion, sending the basketball curling off the backboard and into the hoop. Nudging this metal frame around feels like you’re married to a shopping cart, I get that. But the ungainly lurch you have perfected from chair back to end table to door frame is not some form of antediluvian parkour. It is unbecoming and deeply worrying for those around you. Own your walker. Yes, it is a recognition of human fragility, just like bifocals, push up bras and jock straps. But it holds the key to a reasonably safe and happy version of the life you live now.

Fear the cat

Small moving objects, throw rugs, boxes left in odd places. Standing while putting on your clothes. Stairs. Ladders. Precipitation of any kind. Carrying anything that can change your centre of gravity or is difficult to see over. You no longer have the luxury of regarding these as a challenge to be taken up. They have the capacity to change the trajectory of your life. Old age should have brought you the ability to think before you leap, stand or walk. It is now a necessity. There is little dignity in ending up with a broken hip. Hospitals are largely overrated as places of conviviality. If you want more company, explore the possibility of going to a day centre.

Put your hearing aids in

“I SAID, ‘PUT YOUR HEARING AIDS IN’. ” They are uncomfortable and make a crowded room sound like the confabulation of crows. Sometimes it is easier not to hear. While old age allows selective hearing to be elevated to high art, no one, no one has communicated a beautiful nuanced idea while baying like a demented coyote. It becomes so much easier to talk over the top of you. Your convenience leads to their inconvenience — this is never a good thing if you want to be kept in the loop.

Learn to say thank you

You are no doubt spending time losing things, not just literally, but also metaphorically. Your faculties, functionality, all of the hallmarks of independence you worked so hard to accumulate. The ability to drive a car. Go to the store on your own. To manage your money or tie your shoes. In the face of all this neediness, learn to say thank you. Say thank you to friends and family, who do what they do for love. Also, say thank you to those who do it for small wages and little recognition. It helps your helper to know their endeavours are noticed and welcomed. There is also another reason. Babies never say thank you. Children learn to say thank you. The art of gratitude is only practised well by adults, who have enough experience to know the price of service. Gratitude keeps you in the sphere of adults. Dignity isn’t earned by not needing help, but by recognising the value of others.

You can flirt with anyone

Go on, try it. You are no longer bound by the need to look strong and competent. You are free to notice people and have the time to listen, to try and understand what really makes them tick. Salt your day with small moments of joy. More than likely, no jealous partner will regard you as a threat. Your social interchange won’t hold the freight of the future. Their response is not caught up with the need to perform. You are free to share small moments of fun with anyone you want.

One hand clapping, fingers snapping

Where are you now on this journey? Do you look back and see a river with twists and turns that make sense? Are you so far around the bend that you can’t remember where you have been? I have no advice with this from here. I suspect faith with certainty isn’t something that comes with age. It may be formed by yesterday, but isn’t practiced there. The jazz of your life, right now, is in the tips of your fingers, as it is right now in mine. You are alive as much as you have ever been, go forth and conquer, there is no small measure of joy in there somewhere.

This essay is also posted on Medium.