The last day of being fifty-three. Being fifty-four will mean only one more year of ticking the age group box “45-54” in those questionnaires to which we are all subject from time to time. Reaching 55 will be traumatic! A man whom I assumed was ten years older than myself introduced himself at a conference, he was only fifty-one. “Is that how old I look? I thought.
“Do I look as old as him?” I asked a friend.
“Yes”, came the frank reply. “But you are much greyer than him”.
The passing years are troubling. Death is not a worry; to be worried about death would be to deny all the work of my life. Decline is worrying; decline and loneliness. The Simon and Garfunkel song “Old Friends” has the capacity to evoke a deep sadness.
Old friends, old friends,
Sat on their parkbench like bookends
A newspaper blown through the grass
Falls on the round toes
of the high shoes of the old friends
Old friends, winter companions, the old men
Lost in their overcoats, waiting for the sunset
The sounds of the city sifting through trees
Settle like dust on the shoulders of the old friends
Can you imagine us years from today,
Sharing a parkbench quietly
How terribly strange to be seventy
Old friends, memory brushes the same years,
Silently sharing the same fears
Should I live so long, in sixteen years and one day’s time, I shall be seventy. It is not the numbers that worry me, how can a number cause problems? It is the reality represented by the numbers that is troubling. It is the realisation that the passing years and the moves from parish to parish means there is no place that can be called “home”, there is no place which offers a feeling of belonging there. It is the feeling that in sixteen years time I might reach the parkbench and have no old friends with whom to sit; no-one whom I have known more than a few years; no-one whose memory brushes the same years; no-one to sit as a counter-balance on the bench in a companionable silence.
“How terribly strange to be seventy” sang Simon and Garfunkel, but, as strained as their relationship has been at times, they have a lifetime of memories to recall.
At fifty-three years and 364 days, it is impossible even to know where might be parkbench that might have been shared .
How terribly strange to be alone.