Suddenly Senior


Becoming eighty something. Things begin to happen fast, a sudden jolt of being old. It’s come to that, and you’ve been lucky. Less than thirteen percent of us survive this many years. It’s weird, the subtle and impactful changes that begin to happen when your ‘old’ by definition and by points of view.

Some twenty years ago I was crossing a street in Seattle when a guy on a bicycle whizzed by me shouting. “Out of the way old man!”

Old man and Child or Towards the Evening by Finnish painter Hugo Simberg (Source Wikimedia Commons)

It felt weird, the first time anyone had called me that. I was still in my early sixties and I thought about it, then forgot about it for another twenty years until a dinner party with some of my wife’s relatives. There was a woman I had not met before with a child on her lap. She asked the boy if he knew the names of people at the table. He started and was doing well until he came to me. He paused.

“Who’s that?” Mom asked.

“Old man,” he said and everybody laughed, myself as well.

But it was something more than funny—things kids say, rare blurts of truth. I was blindsided by reality. This was how people saw me now. I didn’t know. It was confirmed a week later by two girls looking for the location of a café at a shopping mall.

“Ask that old man,” one of them told her friend.

So, now I am one. I admit it, and it’s almost a relief; young, middle age, then old . . . no more new definitions, only adjectives, very old, extremely old. There’s nothing wrong with being old of course, although I feel my creativity has lessened. Somewhere out there there’s a Grandma Moses doing masterpieces, but there are not many.

.    .    .

Old Man in an Armchair, painting by  Rembrandt van Rijn, 1652, National Gallery, London (Source Wikimedia Commons)

From Porgy and Bess: “Old age, what is you anyhow? Nothing but growing lonely.”

Old age sneaks up on us, then it whacks us on the back, a sudden awareness of subtotaled time, accounting. Long-time friends with lesser years than mine keep dying, illnesses and accidents . . . bad luck. They live in memories, indelible, recalled before-sleep, random thoughts in bed. The ones that knew me way back when, and almost up to now. Those ones I could tell anything, or simply pass some time in idle conversation, honest smiles exchanged on sight. I miss ‘em, but I’m lucky to be here, I guess. A temporary vault of memories, the way they were, and times we shared together.

What significant changes, moments, have you noticed in your life as years pass by? What long departed friends (not lovers) do you still remember? What was it that formed the bond between you?


  1. Bruce, it ain’t easy being green (as Kermit the frog once said) – or old, for that matter. But giving in to it?? Not yet! Thanks for your exacting thoughts on the subject. We have to rejoice in beating the odds.

  2. I agree with Debbie.
    My mother used to cycle everywhere, and was active and apparently fit. She had dieted constantly to keep her weight down, since she had become an adult. Whether it was that, or random chance, she had angina, and at that date medication for it was in its early stage. One of her medications was withdrawn and replaced, then the other too. A week later, whilst on the phone to rearrange a lesson she was due to give, she dropped dead, so that my father, returning home, was unable to open the front door. She was 67.
    I’m convinced she knew her days were numbered. All her affairs were in apple-pie order, and I even recalled a strange phone call I had from her that week, when she had said casually, in passing, “I’m not afraid of dying”.
    I’ve now outlived her by a decade.
    A period in my early twenties when my weight went down to half its normal due to poverty, means I was told I must never attempt to diet, because my body will just draw on its reserves of stored fat and muscle. (It’s why the ketone diet is so destructive.)
    So I don’t attempt to diet, but have noticed that my weight goes up and down according to my happiness index. If I want to look gaunt and interesting, I need to be miserable.
    Perhaps Mark being a good and enthusiastic cook who always cooks for an army and wants things finished up because he’s already cooking the next meal, cake, etc., may also have something to do with it.
    But life and the expectation that I’d not exceed the normal span of three score and ten years, means I regard every day as an unexpected bonus.
    I’ve too many battles still to fight, and too many stories and pieces of music still to write, to relinquish my hold on life just yet.

  3. Bruce, I deeply enjoyed hearing your perspective. As my father’s health has not been good, this gives a sliver of insight (he is not much of a philosophizer or literary type). We are all aging, of course. Though that thought may be lost on the “young”. I for one have spent my adult life improving my diet, though I fall short on exercise which is my next goal. I do get inspired by the 50+ set on instagram with their sculpted muscles!

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