We are at the mobile phone store, James and I are. A perky, attentive young assistant we’ll call Kimberly (she reminds me of Andie MacDowell, if Andie MacDowell were 22) finds Jim the new phone he needs—bigger, faster and with a whole lot more gigs. It takes moments for the new phone to be up and running and protected by a sturdy new case, and for the old phone to be wiped clean and readied for recycling of some sort.
Then Kimberly takes my sad phone from me. She looks at the shattered screen. The old tiny, edgy cracks were nudged recently, by a full-frontal splat on a hard floor, into full spiderwebs that flare across most of the glass.
Kimberly makes the tsk, tsk sound, and then she looks at me fondly. She will help me order a replacement phone (I have no need for more or faster, so my new phone will just be a pristine version of the same old phone). That will come to my house, and she tells me I should bring it back in and get a case and protection glass for the screen. Her fingers fly across a keyboard while she talks, and she finds that we can get a discount for setting up auto-pay and another discount if anyone in our family is a veteran of the armed services (my stepson Matt served proudly in the Navy, and even though he is not on our phone plan, his service is good enough, Kimberly thinks, to earn us a chunk of change.)
She gets the replacement folks on the line, and a new phone immediately starts wending its way to my house. It will arrive tomorrow, and a service rep will arrive at my door soon after to help me set up the new phone and disable the old one.
While Kimberly is efficiently dispatching all these necessary jobs—effortlessly clearing details that would have taken me weeks to wade through, I tell her how easy she’s making the process. She begins to smile.
“I was at my mother’s house for lunch today,” she tells me, “and her elderly neighbor came over with her cell phone. She said, ‘Kimberly, can you fix this?’ And I saw what it was—it’s a glitch a lot of older folks run into—so I was able to take care of it in a couple of seconds. She was so happy! She said, ‘I don’t know how you DO that,’ and I said, ‘Well I have these skills, and you have other ones.’”
Kimberly’s eyes are a little glazed; she is immersed in remembering, and forgetting her audience. She muses, “She was just about—” and I see her stop and realize what she’s about to say, stop and swallow the “…your age…” that was about to pop out of her mouth.
“…the sweetest thing,” she amends, a little lamely, a beat late.
“Nice save,” I think but do not say to the red-faced assistant, and James bags up all his new phone accessories and holds the door for me as I totter my elderly self out of that bastion of techie youth.
I had been napping, my head against the window, when the pilot came over the intercom, loud and cheerful.
“Buckle up, folks!” he crowed. “We’re almost ready to land.”
I looked out the window just as we emerged from the clouds and a whole new landscape spread out before me. It looked nice down there; it was sunny, not too crowded, and there seemed to be lots of green space.
“You’ll find,” continued the pilot, “that you won’t need your jackets—it’s a balmy 78 degrees right now! Do make sure, though, that you have your elastic-waisted pants and your sensible shoes. And don’t forget to call your kids or your friends and tell them you’ve arrived safely.
“Sit back now. We’re just about to land.”
He clicked off, and the plane swooped down. There was a little jolt as the wheels touched down, but otherwise, all was smooth.
The plane was full, and we passengers looked around and smiled at each other as we reached for our bags in the overhead bins. We were all looking forward to joining friends and family, now that we’d arrived in the land of Old.
There is absolutely nothing good to say about a string of ninety-degree days that leech from late September into early October. It is wrong, and it is terrifying: climate change rearing its ugly face above the horizon once again. I was so relieved when, just last night, the heat streak cracked wide open, and clear, cold air rushed in to push the muggy denseness away.
I got up this morning, and I made some coffee, and I pulled on my walking clothes—capris, a long-sleeved shirt. I laced up my sneaks over soft white socks, and I tried to pull up the music app on my new phone.
I could get Van Morrison’s scowling face on my screen, but I couldn’t conjure up the little arrow that would bid him sing. Damn, I thought: my new phone and no music.
Mark came to look, and we passed the phone back and forth, checking this, checking that. Finally, I went into Settings and realized the phone was set for our OLD wifi. I typed in the new access code, updated everything, and went back to Music.
The arrow still did not appear, and Van remained mute. I went for a walk with just my morning thoughts for accompaniment. It was a nice walk, but I was actually cold, and I wished I had dug out a light pair of knit gloves. The chill was good, though; I walked briskly and covered a lot of territory in a shorter time.
When I get home, I took some Tylenol. Mark came through, rubbing his hip.
“I love this weather,” he said, “but my bones are aching.”
We mixed up batter and tag-teamed some awesome French toast and ham.
Jim smelled good smells and dragged himself downstairs.
I mentioned the phone music dilemma to him.
“Oh,” he said. “Sorry to hear that. Did you turn it off for ten seconds?”
I turned off the phone, ate my whole grain French toast, and turned the phone back on again. The little arrow popped up on Van Morrison’s face. When I clicked it, he began to sing.
And I thought, again, Damn. Maybe I AM the same age as Kimberly’s mother’s elderly neighbor.
I popped a couple of glucosamine and wrestled the vacuum from the hall closet.
Maybe it’s harder for those of us born on the younger end of large sibling groups to get the hang of aging. We are too little for so long; we watch siblings go out and do daring things we won’t be allowed to do for YEARS. They hit all the milestones—Graduation! Big travels! Jobs! Weddings!—long before we are eligible.
“I can’t wait,” we think, “until I am old enough to…”
And then suddenly we ARE old enough. Suddenly we are, say, thirty, and an older sibling says to us, “You know, you USED to be a little kid, but now we’re all the same age.”
All grownups. All those hefty milestones passed. But still, we feel like we’re on the young end of things.
Until suddenly, we’re 60, and the doctor says things like, “Arthritis,” and “High blood pressure,” and “Decaffeinated coffee.”
Damn, we think.
I walk by a beautiful garden display—no blooms, just foliage,–and I think to myself, “I’ve got to try some of that…what DO you call that stuff?” And as I walk, I mull names. Pachysandra? No, that’s the ground cover. Not chrysanthemums; of course not, silly. The name is right there; it’s written on a sturdy piece of card stock, and it’s sloshing back and forth in the muck on the bottom of my brain.
But I cannot reach in and pick it up.
When I get home, I look up ‘plants with colorful foliage,’ and find the word I want: coleus. I smack my forehead, and the cardstock, word emblazoned, pops up from the muck.
“A little late, aren’t you?” I mutter, and it does a little dance before sinking away again.
My memory hits sluggish spots. My shoulders and my knees creak. I read ads about clever gadgets that cure bunions without surgery, and I think seriously about sending off a check.
When I need to use technology, I look around for a twelve-year-old to help me.
It is true. My feet are planted firmly in the Land of Old.
It’s not, really, such a bad place to be. The company is wonderful. I may be dragging sixty-plus years’ worth of baggage down the walkways, but so are all my companions, people who know what I’m talking about when I say things like “the Troggs” or “bomb shelters” or “plaid Bermudas and woolen knee socks.”
There are a lot of experiences to sift through from this lofty vantage; there’s a lot of meaning to be made.
And there is time, now, when I remember not to over-schedule myself, to think about those meanings.
There is the sense, too, of the less important things, the frivolous, unnecessary things, falling away, and there is the opportunity to really delve into the big matters, the important matters, the thoroughly engaging matters, that remain. There are books to be read; there are words to be written; there are still new things to be explored.
But now I am choosier. Now I can’t do everything, can’t make choices willy-nilly, can’t think, “Well, if that doesn’t work out, I’ll just try something else.”
Now I need to focus on the things I really want and need to do.
And, here in the Land of Old, I find a spiritual community too,…a group of compatriots steeped in gratitude. We made it through all that and have, now, the time to ponder. Many of our best ones finished the journey way too early. I didn’t earn the right to be here, I know: I was just blindly lucky. I will appreciate that luck; I will really, mindfully, dwell here in this time, foggy mind, aching bones, and all.
I take my new phone back to the mobile phone store, where I buy a case and a screen protector.
“Would you like me to put those on your phone for you?” asks the efficient young clerk, whose name, her badge says, is Devon.
“Yes, I would,” I say, and I hand her my phone. In seconds she has encased my new technology in protection from my haphazard ways. There are things I gladly hand to the young, things it would not behoove me to try to learn to do.
And there are things I’ve learned that they haven’t mastered yet. I still know a couple of tricks that they can’t do. So I’ll bring my Smartphone to that technology chapel, and then I’ll go back to my land.
But, my good companions and I, we’ve been here long enough to figure out the kinds of encouragement and support those young ones need. So we’ll watch for the times of need, and when they come, we’ll float out messages in brightly colored bottles, sending thoughtful dispatches from the Land of Old.
Oh, and I looked up Andie MacDowell, by the way. She herself is 61.