There is a piece of poetry by Robert Browning that my mother was quite fond up, especially as she was eventually forced, as we all are, to adopt senior citizenship. Here’s the main verse:
“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made. Our times are in his hand who saith, ‘A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!”
I never had any feelings, one way or the other, about this verse…until now. I am sure it currently has significantly more meaning because I turned 70 this year. Still, my mind may be more receptive to the rhymes of an Irish limerick, but I guess I am finally relating to what Browning had to say.
There are similarities I share with my mother that make the poem more substantive now. The primary one is that we each married someone whom we genuinely loved and we stayed married to that person until death did my father part and until I or my wife eventually do likewise. My parents were married for 43 years when my father died. Rosemarie and I celebrated our 48th this year. So we’ve all grown old together.
There is, however, one thing that my mother and I do not share regarding Browning’s message. She revered it; I feel just the opposite. Call it seeing the glass half empty, but I have absolutely no faith in the concept that the best is yet to be.
Based on the fact that my body deteriorates in painful increments just about weekly and that my income deteriorated in one big chunk upon retiring, whatever is “best” already has been and certainly is not to be.
I was once a materialistic guy who liked buying “stuff” that was useful or lasting or just plain fun to have. Tools, cars, televisions, computers were all turn-on’s. Now I seldom find myself using the phrase, “That’ll come in handy someday,” unless maybe I’m thinking about a wheelchair or a cemetery plot. If those are the things that represent the best as it’s going to be, I am not sure I could do worse.
Meanwhile, I am having second thoughts as to whether or not Rosemarie and I have the fortitude to get through the aging process. It seems the older we get, the less tolerance we have for each other’s habits and idiosyncrasies. This is especially true when we are in the car together. All of a sudden, neither one of us can stand the other’s driving. This has never been an issue before. In fact, when we first started dating I had a stick-shift Chevy with the stick on the steering column. Driving the car involved both hands. One of the things that made me fall in love with Rosemarie was that she was a young lady of many talents. She even knew how to drive a stick-shift car—an exceptionally rare skill for a high school girl in 1963. So to fulfill the desire to sit closely together in the front bench seat of the Chevy, me with my right arm nicely placed around her, I would have to work the clutch while she changed gears with the stick. We thought we drove just great.
Today, getting in the car with each other brings a whole new meaning to the term, “buckle up.” Each of us is assuming the driver’s role even though the one in the passenger seat has no brake or steering wheel. That person is still prone to slap his/her foot on the floor in an attempt to stop the car, while bare knuckling the dashboard or grabbing for the handle that’s mounted above the side window. Here’s a typical half-mile’s conversation:
“Must you jerk the car so much every time we start to move?”
“You do the same thing. The gas pedal on this car is very sensitive and it wasn’t that jerky anyway.”
“Watch this truck. He looks like he’s coming over.”
“For God’s sake I see him, I see him. Will you just relax and let me worry about the driving?”
“I could do that if you’d just—HOLY SHIT!
“WHAT? WHAT? DON’T DO THAT. YOU SCARE THE HELL OUT OF ME AND THEN I WILL HAVE AN ACCIDENT.”
“Well, you were coming across the line on my side and I could count the number of teeth the kid has lost—the kid sitting in the back seat of the car next to us.”
“Do you want to drive?” D O Y O U W A N T TO D R I V E? I’ll pull over right here. It’ll be easier on my nerves than having you scream every time you think I’m going to hit someone.”
And so it goes…as we grow old together, falsely being led down the path where things that are to be, will supposedly be at their best. I think maybe what would be best is someone finding a cure for arthritis, cancer, Alzheimer’s and a bunch of other deteriorating diseases. It would be good, too, if there was a way to painlessly avoid knee and hip replacements. The best would also include a higher social security payment or a larger 401k…and I personally think the bestest yet to be would maybe actually happen if Rosemarie and I traded in our automatic and got a stick-shift so we could sit close and drive together again.