04 October 2010

Thoughts on ageing

I just got round to finishing José Saramago's 'The Notebook', a book that I have been reading on and off for the last few weeks. It has taken me this long not because it is a dense book, nor because it is not enjoyable, quite the contrary, more because it is a difficult book to read in a continuous sitting. This is not a result of its writing, more because of its episodic nature, being a collection of blog posts each no more than a few paragraphs long, a format which lends itself to being read for but a few pages each day.

As I've mentioned before it chronicles a year in the life of Saramago, three or four posts each week, and while many of the entries are poetic polemics against capitalists and oppressors from Bush to Berlusconi, these are almost outnumbered by heartfelt tributes and obituaries to colleagues and friends that pass away over the course of the year. This is all the more wrenching given Saramago's own passing earlier this year, less than ten months after The Notebook ends. His spectre haunts each page, the whole book being an exercise in melancholic foreshadowing.

My choice of reading location did nothing to lift this mood, travelling as I was back and forth to a series of hospitals to visit my grandmother, or spend time with my grandfather at home. While my grandmother has made a full recovery (indeed is in better form than she was before the episode), spending many hours in a stroke ward while visiting her left a heavy weight upon my mind.

At 37 I have been fortunate enough to have enjoyed the company not only of all grandparents, but some great-grandparents, for a meaningful length of time. Though my paternal grandparents, with whom I was not that close, have passed away, they did so both in their mid-nineties. While my maternal grandparents have both had significant health problems, now in their mid-eighties they still (until this latest episode) drove each morning to a nearby hotel for a coffee and a gossip with other similarly-aged folks. Here in Ireland we may not be quite at US levels of Senior Citizen-related activity (my American paternal grandfather played 9 holes of golf three or four days a week until his early nineties), but the quality of life for Irish seniors has changed significantly in the last twenty years, and will change even more dramatically as an ageing population and worsening economic situation forever alters our notion of retirement and old age. Thanks to our current government and their friends in Anglo Irish it is not unreasonable to suggest that I will be expected to work until 75, if indeed the concept of retirement still exists by the time I would be considering it, for no doubt it will continue to exhibit Xeno-like paradoxical qualities, forever being moved just out of grasp as I approach it.

I have therefore always believed that, baring accident or mishap, I would live to a similar age as my grandparents. But I have never given that much thought to the quality of that life, and after spending so much time in the stroke ward I will now admit to thinking about it a little too much. I try to maintain a healthy lifestyle, I am a vegetarian for almost ten years now, have never smoked, am less than an occasional drinker, and am fitter now than at any time in the last five years thanks to the auspices of the good folks at DublinBikes. Beyond that there is little more that I can do, and thinking about the future is less than productive.

My only wish is that in fifty years time I am as engaged with the world and as vocally grumpy about it as Saramago was, or indeed as my own grandfather is today. By then I would hope that my ability to complain and critique has been sharpened to a razor-sharp edge, but perhaps I am capable of wielding it with a little more discrimination.

Thank you to everyone who contacted me with kind thoughts and words for my grandmother, it was very much appreciated. She is home now, and in all honesty seems ten years younger than she was before the stroke.

It seems only fitting to finish this post with a few lines from Saramago's closing words from "The Notebook":
"You may find something good in these posts, and on that I congratulate myself, without vanity; and others may encounter something bad, and for this I apologize - but only for not having written of certain subjects better, not for having failed to write of different subjects, since, if you will excuse my saying so, that was never an option."

- José Saramago (16th Nov 1922 - 18th June 2010)

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At 7:53 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thinking of you, dude



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