This was a bad week for old men. And I don't mean Hosni.
Three of my college classmates died. I am the Class of 1953 webmaster, and it falls to me to notify everyone else when one of our number escapes this mortal coil. One of them (Bill), in retirement an Episcopal priest, phoned me once a year to make sure my contribution to dear old alma mater would be forthcoming. Another (Boine), a fellow psych major and Brooklyn Poly Prep grad, matched my loyal attendance at every class function through the years, and there have been many, many. The third, Bob by name, was buried from a Presbyterian Church in Noroton CT, in a neighborhood I frequented on my bicycle during the II War years.
The Grim Reaper cuts a swath closer and closer.
Closer still. Saturday morning I opened an Email whose sender I did not at first identify. Then I realized that "Shirlee" from Tennessee is Jim's daughter. You remember Jim. I celebrated him with an essay on my website. He's my locker room buddy, the nonagenarian who turned the anguished question "Why?" on its head so that it sounded more like "Why not?" Jim suffered a stroke of the main cerebral artery, paralyzing his left side. Shirlee doubted he would return from the hospital, let alone to the locker room.
Yes, it was a bad week for old men, a category of humankind I find myself nudged into by 90% of the people I meet along the way. One glance in the mirror confirms their verdict.
Do you know the worst part about being an old man? It's not the deterioration of the flesh, the way the skin on my forearms now wrinkles like used aluminum foil; or the inevitable stiffness of the joints when rising from a chair after dinner. That's bad enough, along with the receding gums, the varicose veins, and the hairless pate.
No, the worst part is seeing yourself as others see you. As out of it. Out of the mainstream of life, on the edge looking in. It's the reflexive and unspoken judgment rendered in gatherings of soccer moms and Little League dads, the dads especially, greeting you each time as if you had never met before; and, worse, when talking with you, looking over your shoulder for someone more interesting, more with it... younger. I suspect such treatment is hard on every old man. But it's especially hard on this old man, who once was the parson, that is, "the person," to whom not only congregants but community leaders looked for wisdom, assurance, and guidance. Now with me in view they look for an escape.
Like the woman who prayed for patience... and God sent her insufferable sister to live with her. I've exalted humility in sermon and essay, now it's my turn to learn it the hard way.
But old men do have a strategy for dealing with the world's tendency to shove them aside before they shuck off this mortal coil. They have each other. High among the unanticipated pleasures of growing old has been the reappearance in my life of other old men with whom I've shared a lot of years, early and late. They are the ones to whom I do not have to explain Brooklyn Dodgers, cod liver oil, and the put down term "turkey." Once in our days as world-beaters we competed; now we commiserate. And congratulate. Sometimes we even consult. Bill, the Episcopal priest, emailed me a couple of years ago to confirm that a classmate's father was the hymnist for "Precious Lord, Take My Hand." I regretted the necessity of telling him no, that it was another Tommy Dorsey. Boine, the former Brooklyn boy, sometime around our fiftieth reunion paid me a compliment I continue to treasure. We took a course in the psychology of religion in our junior year. Looking back on that moment Boine allowed as how I could have taught the course. And Boine was not especially generous in passing out compliments.
Old men have each other. To look after. To encourage. And to put up with our nonsense, political and religious, ignoring our stupidities like the many digestive noises to which old men are prone.
And old men are doubly lucky, as I am, if they have a not-so-old woman to cajole and comfort them in the long stretches between communications with other old men.