Better Than Being DeadI don't want to grow old, but at 65, retired, after major surgery treating cancer, the options are getting older and getting dead. I prefer the former. But I was lucky enough when I was younger to minimise the physical consequences of ageing. I have practised hatha yoga for more than twenty years, and I am one of the most flexible members of my karate club, most of whom are in their teens and twenties. I practise karate most days and attend classes two or three times a week.
I retired from work on grounds of ill-health after my surgery, and I have been in remission for 6 years. All of that time I have been living with my wife on our pensions. Getting enough money to live comfortably without working is an unending pleasure. Cancer gives you a different perspective on life: I no longer look forward to things. If I want to do something I do it immediately; I don't look forward to doing it in the future.
I was ready to retire from my job: teaching in a university used to be a pleasure, but towards the end of my time, people were becoming less and less interested in teaching, more and more interested in fund-raising through research projects. I enjoyed doing research when I set the agenda; I didn't care for it as an employee contracted to discover information for the client. So, in retrospect, the cancer and the following retirement were a blessing. I didn't miss the administration or even the research, but I did miss the teaching: I always enjoyed working with students, so I became a volunteer tutor for adults needing help with literacy and numeracy, and for people learning English as a foreign language. I studied French, German, and Latin at school so I have some background understanding of the difficulties that speakers of other languages have when they try to learn English. I have two pupils, one from Poland, the other from Latvia. I enjoy teaching them, and they seem to enjoy their lessons with me.
What have I lost with age? My looks. My hair was beautiful, glossy, dark-brown curls. Now it is thin, grey, and I am balding at the crown and the widows' peak. My eyes were dark and flashing, now the irises have grey rings, the arcus senilis, the arc of the senile. My skin is not so much wrinkled as crazed, like the glaze on old, cheap crockery. Hair bristles from nostrils and ears and my eyebrows seem now to be made out of barbed-wire. The rest of me doesn't look so bad, 190 lbs, 5'-10", so far so good.
I don't want to grow old either, but the alternative is worse.