by Hugh Gilmore
I’m a very funny person. Very funny. I’m – hah hah – loads of fun to be with. Just ask my friends, especially those fond of ardent spirits. They’ll tell you: “Hugh’s very funny.” If pushed to explain, they’ll probably say it all stems from my sense of humor. I have a very funny sense of humor. Hah hah. See, I’m laughing already.
I am not a funny writer though. I take life too seriously when it’s time to express my thoughts in writing. If it’s humor you want when you pick up this newspaper, you’ll have to see if Jim Harris or Mike Todd or Janet Gilmore are in this week’s issue. (Full disclosure: I own stock in Ms. Gilmore – futures, actually.) Writing weekly cultural commentary, especially about books and reading, is a sacred obligation that leaves little room for jollity. I toe the line and write seriously, even though I’m personally very funny when I’m off the clock, so to speak. Just ask my friends.
I already said “Just ask my friends”? Oh. Sorry. I’m looking for a transition here.
Got it. Thank you. My subject today is: Why Older People Seem Confused. I speak not yet as an expert, but as one who stands on the threshold of older-ness, close enough, let’s say, to feel its hot breath and notice the lack of Tic-Tacs. Since I’m on the borderline, I have the advantage of looking back and feeling regret, and then looking forward … and feeling even more regret.
I confess I’m doing things lately that are a bit off, but I know why I do them. Though the rate at which I make mistakes seems to be increasing, I can explain each and every one of them. This remarkable ability to see what’s happening as I transition from being an “older person” to being an “old person” is rather like being a frog that’s being ingested by snake, but from the hind legs forward. Too late to stop the process, but a perfectly clear understanding of what’s happening. Until the lid comes down, I guess.
Thank you. For example: I took a three-mile walk yesterday afternoon. In the early evening, when I stood up from my favorite chair, my knees hurt and continued to ache for another few minutes. That bothered me. I walk a lot and my knees usually do not bother me. But lately they’ve been painful. The pain not only bothered me, it puzzled me. I wondered why my knees ached. I thought: I should ask my doctor. My G.P. is also a sports-medicine guy. Maybe he could tell me. I wondered just how I would explain the probrlem to him. In my head, I said, “Doctor, I just don’t know why my knees hurt so darned much. I’ve been walking that track five times a week for nearly 20 years. And I go to the gym about five times a week too. I’ve never had a problem before.”
And of course, in the saying of it, I realized what the doctor would say: I should ease up a bit. I’m wearing out the machinery. I know that happens to other people, but is that true here? It can’t be. I’m a special case and I don’t go in for clichés. Old age only happens to people who don’t pay attention.
But, is this the same as when I stood at the garage bay last year and told the mechanic, “But this car’s been working fine for 17 years now. How can you say it’s shot?” Finish lines for races and contests are just arbitrary lines drawn in the sand. We get so used to that concept, it seems equally arbitrary when we apply the notion of “finished” to reality. Your knees are finished? Your car still runs, but it’s finished? “No, I’m not kidding,” the mechanic said.
What I’m saying is, All kinds of guides, blogs, pamphlets, books, TV shows, mirrors, and photographs surround us to tell us we’re “older.” But nothing, nowhere, nohow, exists to tell a person he or she is “old.” Usually the owner of the failing mind and body is the last to know. Old age doesn’t seem like a rational explanation, not in the way that “I over-exercised” is. Self-knowledge is the hardest to attain.
And that’s one major reason why older people seem confused. They seem confused because they are confused. For good reason. At some subtle point life starts becoming like Algebra 2. No matter how hard you bear down, there’s a necessary, linked concept or info-bit missing. It’s deja vu adolescence all over again.
Case in point: On the night my knees really hurt when I stood up and went upstairs, I’d gone up to look for my glasses, which I couldn’t find because they were perched on my head. Where I’d put them. My wife pointed out their presence when I asked if she’d seen my glasses.
“But wait,” I said, in my unasked-for defense, “I only forgot they were there because I was thinking about what I’d tell the doctor about my knees.”
Next week: Part 2: “Any port in a storm,” or “A trip to the ladies room.”
Hugh Gilmore is the author of “Malcom’s Wine,” a noir bibliomystery set in the dark back streets of Ann Arbor, Michigan, in the shadow of the great U. Just a one-click button away on Amazon.com, in both paperback and ebook formats.