There are days when I feel old. I'm not fifty yet, but sometimes the bung knee, the bad back, and the weak ankle conspire to make me feel like I'm past it. Combine that with not being able to read the street directory at night, unless I hold it in front of the headlights, and it can be really depressing. I don't feel old in my soul, but the body is letting the team down badly some days. The thought that the body will fail and remove me from life which I have begun to enjoy, makes me sad. Not angry anymore, but deeply sad.
The failing nature of my body is humbling. I can't dash in front of the traffic to cross over to where I work because my ankle could bring me down on the bitumen. Some days I must stand for five minutes before there is a break I can walk through. I can't run any distance anymore because it hurts too much, and I need special glasses and a torch to look inside a computer and read the print on components. It re-focuses my thoughts on what it is worth living for. If being a sportsman is all there is, life is over!
Doug Mills said to me once that at eighty five he felt like he had lived too long. He felt the pains and limitations of age keenly. I remember him telling me how he'd opened a gate out on the station and then went to run down one side of the sheep to head them in the right direction. "I couldn't even raise a trot," he said.
Doug had owned a station out from Whyalla. He was six foot tall even as an old man. He'd had a tough life; I remember him describing how he had taken the white metal bearings out of a windmill as a young man and wrapped them in strips of tin to make a temporary axle bearing to get the car home to the station. Doug also had the biggest hands I'd ever seen. At a men's health meeting some of us went to, the speaker said that when it came to prostate examinations men generally preferred women doctors because of the smaller hands. A voice up the back said "Thank God Doug Mills isn't a doctor!" Actually, Doug might have been a good doctor. He had integrity and courage and honesty.
He is one of the figures of my life. He was strong and athletic, a man's man. And yet he honestly faced the pain and frustration of an aging body. And even when old, that body showed a dignity and carried a man inside it, that I hope I can be like in some way.
It was Doug at 85 who could listen to a pointed radical sermon, and whatever he thought about it, be encouraging, and who could be more open to new ideas than people half his age. It was Doug who could be old, and be honest about the struggle of it. It was Doug who could be old and struggling with it and yet show integrity and compassion and live outside of himself when the temptation must often been to be self pitying. Doug was not vindictive, and he was not small. His being and spirit had grown to fit his physical size.
I will be well pleased if I can become as large a man as Doug. He showed me we can live with an aging body. He showed me the value of thinking first, of considering, and then speaking. He showed me being old is not to be old fashioned. I saw a dignity that encourages me about being an old man.
October 8 2001
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