Sixty today. It is an odd feeling. When I was young, to be sixty was to be old. Now that I am sixty, there is still the prospect of working for another fifteen years.
The passing years are troubling. Death is not a worry; to be worried about death would be to deny all the work of my former years as a priest.
Death is not worrying, it is decline that 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 ten years’ 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 I have made mean there is no place where I know anyone. High Ham and Langport may be the place where I have a sense of rootedness, but the people are all new. The faces from my childhood years have gone and I am a stranger in my own place.
I am left with the feeling that in ten years’ time I might reach the sort of park bench featured in the song and have no old friends with whom to sit to pass the days of being a septuagenarian. There are no friends whom I have known more than a few years; no old friends whose memory brushes the decades of life since childhood years; there will be no-one who might sit as a counter-balance at the other end of 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.
To be able to sit on that bench would be an enviable experience.