Oliver Sacks, everyone’s favorite M.D., gave us a glimpse of what it is like to become 80. (See The New York Times, 7 July 2013.) This is the second time I’ve had an M.D. use 80 as an indicator of age. But why 80? I was already 90 that first time . Now I’m 100! And it seems that I’ve only just joined that cadre we call the aged.
I do have a significantly longer perspective. What does it provide that one lacks at 80 or 50? Not just more experience, even though, fortunately, most of my experience has been unmarred by bad events.
It is this enlarged perspective I value most. Dr Sacks presumably lumps this with enhanced freedom. For me that means escape from the urgencies imposed on us before we can reason for ourselves.. And escape from the commercial wheel that dominates, as though there were no alternatives. Maggie Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were the devils of that pinioned view in my day. It is therefore a freedom to explore new Modus Vivendi, even those we hesitatingly label utopian. There is so much to unlearn in this final half-century. And so few reliable guides left to help us do it. Some of our young, fortunately, are finding their own way.
Paul Shepard, a neglected Yalie, was one such guide, however. He saw that “This is the Only World We’ve Got,” that our having invented agriculture was a basic ecological tragedy, and that our salvation lies not in some other world, but in rediscovering that we are part of a still-evolving Nature: not its master but a provisional care-taker of the processes of existence, as A. N. Whitehead, and almost only Whitehead, saw a century ago. Almost everyone complained that his magnum opus, Process and Reality, was too thorny. It is if you leave out his everyman Modes of Thought.So, for me, “being ready to go” means, not going to heaven or hell, since Emily Dickinson freed me long ago of that Roman intimidation, with “Some people go to heaven at last, but I’m going all along.” Not at all grim; hardly weary; just bereft of the energy to continue to love and work, which Freud, despite so many other mistakes, saw as the simple task of life. But not quite yet!