Better Than Being Dead

I 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.
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2 Responses Oct 18, 2010

It's good to hear that you maintained your health through yoga and karate. And it's also good to hear that you learnt something from what could have been nothing but a horrible experience. Indeed, although I am am still very young, I agree that we all need to do the things we want to do instead of taking life for granted. I might be mistaken, and forgive me if I am, but I'm not sure if you are depressed or not. It sounds like you are living a relatively normal live for someone of your age, and that the only thing (at least in this article) that seems to be disturbing you is the loss of you looks. Now, while I can understand why that would upset you, I must warn you that it doesn't help to drown yourself in self-pity. The most beautiful people on this planet get old eventually, as does everything. Do not thing too much about your looks and focus on more important things. The things you enjoy, your hobbies, your family, your pets, etc. Focusing on your reflection won't make matters easier for you. And as for getting old, like I said, it happens to everyone. Focus on your happy times and worry about getting old or dying when the time comes. No use worrying about the inevitable, just try and enjoy the happy times while they last.