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Aging

by on July 15, 2021

Aging

by Marco M. Pardi

Old age takes away from us what we have inherited and gives us what we have earned.” Gerald Brenan. “Life”.

Ultimately, our lives do not make complete sense until we know with certainty that we are at the very end of our lives. Only then, as we view the finished mosaic, do the pieces fit and tell our story.” Marco M. Pardi

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open to comment.

For most of my life I did not think about aging except in abstract, rather academic ways. As the “One day at a time” mantra grew louder for others I felt no particular enlightenment or conversion; I had already been living that way as what I considered normal. After all, we tend to remember the very few plans that worked out and forget the very many that didn’t. So why waste time planning?

Some would say my lack of planning stems from disengagement or even disinterest in life. That could be. Very few of my early weeks passed without my mother wailing at me about how much she was “sacrificing” for me. The message was clear: she would have been better off had I not been born. Oddly, she was never specific about what she was sacrificing, and I never really cared to ask. I woke up each morning, went about my day, and went to bed at night. If I woke up the next day, fine. If I didn’t wake up the next day, fine. My only plan, if there was one, was to grow up and leave. But don’t assume I wanted to spare anyone the burden of my presence; I just thought being alive wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

Some would say that’s not a healthy lifestyle. Why? How about the 100+ men, women, and children who went to bed a few weeks ago and got smashed like roaches on the kitchen floor as their high rise condominium building pancaked? Did they fail to plan ahead?

Becoming a parent, at age 27, brought significant changes. But in a few years came an unavoidable divorce. For the next couple of years I fought hard to gain custody of my daughter, even having an expert child psychiatrist present the court with a thorough analysis showing she would be far better off with me. But, the courts at that time were firmly of the mind that “A bad mother is better than no mother at all.” Over subsequent years I fought through continuous bouts of soul crushing guilt arising from the feeling I had not done enough. Not something a person should plan to experience. But I never had a moment of Oh, what I’ve sacrificed for her.

Oddly enough, while the divorce was progressing I began teaching Death & Dying at the state college where I was on the faculty. It’s often said that if you want to really know a subject, teach it. And Death & Dying is not just about taking your last breath. It includes a wide array of what are called “mini-deaths”: the variety of losses including amputations, loss of function, loss of career, loss of a loved one, and yes, divorce and loss of child custody. Never before or since was it ever so true that my lectures were often talking to myself as much as to the students.

Subsequent relationships, such as they were, were few, far between, and short. My daughter was my focus. Then the best relationship I had ever had developed with a woman a year or so younger than me and lasted through years, huge geographic moves, and occupational turmoil. We never argued. Not once. But uncontrollable circumstances pulled us apart, and she suddenly died soon after. Not in the plan, if there was one.

Today, as a grandfather of three, I find myself in an expanded role. The oldest grandchild is in the top 10% of her medical school class; the next just graduated from college and is in preparation to be a carrier based Navy fighter pilot; and the third is completing college at the top of her class with a major in Finance and minor in Environmental Science. I only half joke that each of them is way over my pay grade. But I can discuss the nexus of medicine and politics, the risks of being thrown into armed conflict on the whim of craven Imperialists, and the perceived gap between what we must do for the planet and what we can do given our cultural values and financial resources. I don’t expect to receive requests such as, Grandpa, tell us how they did it in the old days. The old days are what got us here.

Looking back is a luxury of questionable worth. But I feel one of my strengths is the ability to draw upon intimate experience with and knowledge of real Fascism, not the stuff portrayed in movies. I am convinced that most Americans really have no idea just how close the United States recently came to descending into the pit of Fascism disguised as Make America Great Again. Nor would most Americans recognize the deception once it is in place. The architects of this prison complex have been in place since the 1920’s and the Red Scare and the brutal suppression of the Labor Movement. The descendants and heirs of this vicious group, admirers of Mussolini and even Hitler, are still in place, many in positions of power, and simply awaiting the next opportunity to seize this country and overturn Democracy.

I’ve written several posts on the subject of Fascism and the attempts to impose an authoritarian government on an unsuspecting American public so I will not bother readers with more. I am more interested in devising ways to communicate the warning signs missed by so many in the elections of recent “Republican” administrations. It is far too easy to dismiss old men like me as alarmist and “out of touch”. And, familial loyalty does not always extend itself to serious consideration of every member’s views.

Now, as I’m quickly closing in on my eighth decade I easily acknowledge that I have far more yesterdays than I do tomorrows. And I’m fine with the loss of many activities I so enthusiastically did over those decades. Some of those losses stem from the loss of strength to do them, some from the loss of physical safety in doing them, and some from the loss of interest in doing them. No more maintenance of exotic sports cars, and hurling them around; not even average car maintenance. No more bareback riding of spirited horses (I feel guilt even thinking about putting my weight, average as it is, on a horse’s back). No more home repair when it involves what are now risky or weighty tasks. I’m growing into being an old guy. The one activity I seriously miss is college teaching. Few things in life brought me the utter joy of seeing people, of all ages, blossom with excitement as they entered into new realizations which I, in some way, helped to facilitate. Undeniable medical issues tipped the ethical decision for me to withdraw from that dearly loved activity.

On communicating with the grandchildren about the increasing risks of authoritarian answers to problems which are seemingly insurmountable any other way there is an understandable voice which says, Do what you can to facilitate understanding of authoritarianism, prepare them to survive if it comes to that, and accept the reality that some things are just not within your control.

Okay. Each of them is more than demonstrating that they are unusually intelligent, and their parents are both stunningly intelligent. But is intelligence a broad enough tent to protect and empower them should an entire society veer toward the worst manifestations of social control? And who said everyone’s life is supposed to be happy? One man’s heaven is another man’s hell.

A metaphor might help: Martial artists are rigidly trained to advance in their sport against combatants who are also rigidly trained to adhere to the rules. Real fighters are flexible in their ability to recognize and overpower those who do not adhere to the rules. The past four years of chaos and turmoil in the American government, from State to federal level, awakened us to the vicious, demented motives and actions of those who feel rules apply only to others. The United States came far closer than ever before, and far closer than most people seem to realize, to losing its democracy to a totalitarian dictatorship. The neo-Fascists, masquerading as “Republicans”, are still in positions of significant power, simply awaiting their next opportunity to try again. Those of us who feel we do not live simply for our own passing pleasures must act to facilitate understanding among the generation coming of age in this most risky of times. I’ve always bristled at that phrase, productive citizen. Being an old guy doesn’t mean being unproductive. Not at all.

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17 Comments
  1. Ray Rivers permalink

    It is hard to even think about commenting after reading such a passionate piece of writing. A life to be proud of and a need to keep doing what you are doing. Thanks for sharing Marco.

    Like

  2. Thank you, Ray, for the kind comments. I hope to continue contributing. Faremo, piu e meglio.

    Like

  3. Tany Walker permalink

    You will be deeply missed when you pass to the great beyond! You will forever be the most influential professor i ever had! Thank you for your existence!

    Tany Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Like

  4. Thank you, Tany. I regret that distance separates us. You have accomplished so much and it has always been a joy to learn of your new activities. Marco

    Like

  5. William Boyd permalink

    Despite your formal teaching career having ended, I continue to reap rewards from your passion, thoughts, words, and actions.

    Like

  6. Pourya Bakhtiyar permalink

    When I got exceptionally lucky, and decided to register for your course and attend the first day of class, I never would have imagined what you said. I am paraphrasing of course but it was something like:

    “In this class, we will talk about everything from the great pyramids, to aliens, to remote cultures around the world”

    And every day thereafter, I looked forward to my Anthropology class because it allowed my mind to flow much freely then my other ridged courses, and because of this, you always had my utmost attention.

    When you would lecture, I found myself wanting to interrupt and say, “Yes, exactly!” I still remember our discussion about DMT, and the studies done on the matter. And to this day, I have not asked you how you trained/learned such a deep level of mediation to be able to experience similar experiences to those on the substance without its influence.

    But this question aside, I found myself in the same predicament that has been described by Alan Watts and I am sure others. If you had the chance to ask God one question, would you really even know what to ask? Not to compare you to a God figure, but simply someone that I assumed had all the answers, or at least an incredible amount of knowledge more than I. And so, after class I was, more often than not, simply satisfied with the discussion, and looked forward to the next class, and anticipating the topics you would write on the board for discussion. You can thank me later for not bothering you every day (haha).

    And so for all the “yesterdays” that you have allowed me to have in your class, I genuinely thank you. I know the college year’s part your mosaic will shine very bright, as I know it will for me.

    I hope for many more posts that can allow my brain to flow freely with thought as it did in your classroom, Professor. Might I recommend something on DMT? 😀

    Like

    • Thank you so much, Pourya. It has been a long time since we talked, and I’m anxious to know how you are doing. I am so glad our class, and our discussions have had helpful meaning for you. I do miss the opportunity to facilitate these discussions again, and it is discussion partners such as you who make these such rewarding and enlightening events. Please let me know how life has been for you since we last talked.

      Like

  7. Pourya Bakhtiyar permalink

    Life has been good! I will shoot you an email over the weekend and we can catch up. I have many many questions!

    Like

  8. Dana permalink

    Marco, the influence you have had in other’s lives has been far-reaching. I’m glad you’ve continued to write even when you wonder if anyone is listening.

    Like

    • Thank you, Dana. Yes, sometimes it seems I just fire things off into the ether. It is said that what is posted on the internet lives forever. I heard the same thing said about radio when, many years ago I was the host of a two hour nightly talk show. Somehow, my voice is still circulating amid the noise surrounding our planet. Maybe that’s why no one has invaded us yet.

      Like

  9. Dana permalink

    Marco sometimes I wish we could hold classes via Zoom or some other video conference platform. Of course people’s schedules can be an issue. The discussions could be posted on YouTube for later viewing as well.

    A lecture or discussion about the control of Neo-Fascists and Dominionism in the U.S. government seems critical. What will the future hold for my two (adult) children? I’m rightfully uneasy especially with our climate in crisis. It’s alarming that so many are completely blind to their own future and that of their nieces, nephews; grandchildren and so forth.

    I’ve known people who are lifelong GOP voters across the board without even knowing who these candidates really are. They simply vote as their parents do and this held true for students in my political science class. We participated in a survey revealing the majority of them vote out of familial party loyalty.

    Like

    • Thank you, Dana. What you write speaks to a reality that has been with us for a long time: Preaching to the choir. You have expended untold energy and thought in the raising of your children and for that they are fortunate. But just as we took our hands off their bicycles and later handed them the car keys we must at some point let go and trust that we’ve done what we can.

      Yes, Party loyalty has become the surrogate for religious membership; especially within one party, it is a cult. I think only crushing pain brought on by their mistakes might change their view. But of course that pain will crush so many other lives in the process and that is the true tragedy.

      Like

  10. “Old age ain’t for sissies.” Fortunately, old age is always twenty years in my future. My current age (66) may be the cause (eventually) of that number diminishing, but for now we’re good. The truth is that I don’t feel old, and I don’t intend to start until absolutely necessary.

    The Golden years aren’t golden, they’re yellowed, and there are reasons why we do things differently now. New ways of thinking and doing are not always better, but social evolution seems inevitable. Some of our prominent changes have (quite frankly) terrified me. You point out how close we came to Fascism; that’s huge!

    So much of what’s wrong now “smells” like what was wrong decades ago. What strikes me is that each new round of protests has seemed to accompany some political event, and faded into oblivion at that event’s resolution.

    If there’s one grand thing anthropology teaches us, it’s that each culture, each time frame, must be “judged” on its own merits. The question is, would we do it that same way again? Doing things the same way repeatedly while expecting a different outcome is the very definition of insanity. The scary part is how close we came to doing just that.

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    • Thank you, Rose. Even as young as you are you a perfect example of the timeless value of true wisdom. As you continue to write and to mentor so many the benefits of your presence will long outlive you.

      Like

  11. jkent33 permalink

    Reading this post reminds me how much our lives run in parallels. I lost control of my daughter from a mother who was cold and selfish believing that she could punish me for not wishing to live my life without her at my side. I lost every battle with our one sided court system that at the time was biased 70/30 towards women. It caused me to abandon my career leaving me bitter and angry at a time when our economy was sickened by a war that lasted way too long draining our mental and physical resources. In desperation I survived but was dead emotionally that led to broken future relationships and several marriages later before I found peace. I fell back on my early years from being the head of a family whose father was reeling from WWII and a mother who was just 16 who turned to a party life she missed as a beautiful young child. She made the situation worse by having 4 more children who like me were searching for attention from a place where attention was impossible to find. Worse yet during the early 60s when the bottom fell out of the economy my dad was forced to take me out of school during my last 3 years at noon to work in his home maintenance business. Fortunately my grades supported that move but it drove me quicker to find a way out of that quagmire. I met a young lady whose situation mirrored mine when her mother divorced a Navy man after one year of marriage forcing her to place the young lady in the care of her aging grandparents who owned a large beef and milk farm that left them little time to care for their grandchild. We scarified together when she worked to put me through college and I did the same for her when upon graduation I divorced her. It was amicable as possible and we used only one attorney to set both of us free. I went through relationships life a Hollywood star that produced my daughter as the best thing at the time. However, I pissed away lots of years with relationship after relationship while trying to find a formula to ease my pain and give me a better understanding of what my role was to find the rewards we all seemed to be chasing through the 70s and 80s and early 90s. Fortunately, I maintained a career that sustained not only myself but managed to care for my daughter now lumped into a matrix of 11 children under my watchful eye. Along that trail I gave up trying to find the rewards I thought we deserved by working hard as hell as I aged leaving behind my wants and desires. I watched as most of my friends experienced the same results but down deep inside I grew cold indifference to any of them and refused to stop searching and clawing away for satisfaction. I stood by silently as my daughter aged. I stood by silently as my hopes and dreams and desires diminished in value as well. While this was all taking place many of the ladies I shared my life with disappeared from bad habits and poor choices. It all came to a head in the early 2000s when I suffered a mild mental breakdown brought on from days and days working to sustain my meager lifestyle as my last long term relationships ended with one dying from cancer and the other suffering with Alzheimer’s. Luckily for me I managed to scrape together funds to purchase a lovely home that will shelter me until the end of my time. During these periods I followed my personal rules of conduct that I learned early on that to battle one must me ready for many challenges. I always carved out time to stay in decent shape because most of my hard times meant I lived in questionable surroundings. In essence I maintained a presence that could shield me from all forms of harm. Except for a bit of a roll around my belt my doctor last week deemed my fit for the periods to follow. I still dream of a companion to share these last years with but I’m so goddamn stubborn regarding politics and religion I have serious doubts such a creature exists today. If lieu of fulfilling all of my hopes, dreams and desires I have focused on building other relationships to rewards me in my days ahead. Not to sound like I’m hunting for anything from you but I draw strength and courage from being in your inter circle of friends. Speaking of which one in particular was by my side for nearly 70 years fell with little signs of recovery. He felt for 65+ years he needed George Dickel or Jack Daniels by his side. He experienced his first stroke in January followed up with another one in March and fell 4 weeks ago in his driveway leading to multiple strokes. He now appears unable to recover from what started out as mental now neurological. In a span of less than 10 years many of those men and women are gone from similar circumstances aggrieved by smoking and drinking booze. I can only say being without these people something makes me sad that they had to leave just as I needed them the most. I guess that decision is not ours to make but it does reinforce my resolve to stick around as long as possible to build more relationships while seeking what I feel I lost in just trying to live…so sometimes I’m afraid my time will come before I reach that pinnacle.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts that as always gives me comfort to know we have traveled the same paths while facing the same challenges ahead. Stay cool my friend and be brave as you have before!

    Like

    • Thank you so much, Jerry. I regret being late in answering. I was traveling.

      I’ve often said you have a marvelous book in you, and I have no doubt others feel the same. I guess when we look at the >250 posts I’ve offered here it could be said I’ve written a book. Stay well, and remember that when you love what you have you have what you love.

      Like

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