But that's a good thing. Stay with me here.
Jack Nicholson turned 84 this past week. Al Pacino turned 81. Queen Elizabeth turned 95. Endings are coming for these people, as they are for all of us. For my part, as I have strong English roots, Elizabeth II is one of the longstanding markers of my existence. She has always and forever been there. The Queen Mother died, Diana died, her husband just passed. Yet she endures, for now. Then, at some point, she won't be there any more.
Just like that. Like Prince Philip. Like Prince. You get it.
Here in Eugene, we have a store chain called BiMart. My fitness trainer works there as a buyer, and we were chuckling the other day about the lineup of older 80s and 90s DVDs they offer in a world dominated by streaming services. I go there for my kindling and fire logs. And I've been picking up older movies, especially those I've never seen and wanted to, or old faves that I have missed.
Or, more honestly, thought I missed until I realized how bad they were, which is the case with Escape From New York.
Still, most of those choices were a sweet walk down memory lane, which was on occasion a nice change of pace from CNN and the existential threat of Covid. There is something to be said for predictably happy endings. And other kinds, too.
Being a Morgan Freeman fan, I had picked up Driving Miss Daisy, and last week, The Bucket List. Freeman is now 83. In The Bucket List, Freeman and Nicholson play two wildly divergent men who are diagnosed with terminal cancer.
In the movie, Freeman is a brilliant mechanic, Nicholson an arrogant, irritable billionaire. Forced to share a hospital room at one of the hospitals Nicholson's company owns, the two strike up an unlikely friendship. Their chemo and impending deaths conspire to create an opportunity to write up, then live out their bucket lists.
Using Nicholson's money, the two head out to skydive, see the pyramids, the Taj Mahal. They wine, dine and share safari experiences, all the while discussing life and what's really important. I won't spoil the ending, but suffice it to say that one guy kicks the bucket, the other lives on. The lessons learned along the way leave a bittersweet taste.
If you're smart, you're also motivated as holy hell to do something about your own life, which is in fact the whole point.
My current BF, with whom I have had a very difficult relationship for some 13 years and counting, told me the other night that he cried at the ending.
That was a surprise. And it was revealing. The ending was painful for me, too, but for different reasons.
As I watched the movie, I was mentally ticking off how many of those so-called "bucket list" items I had already done. I haven't much interest in visiting the Taj Mahal, but I have 130 skydives, eight trips to Africa with lots of safaris. That's the very short list. I don't care about fine food or wine. For me, especially later in life, it's been about the experiences. Living vividly in the time that is given to me. Writing in such a way that moves people's lives.
The film was directed by the initimitable Rob Reiner, whose other movie credits speak to the heart: The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, and other memorable tear jerkers and heartstring-pullers. Reiner knows how to tell a story. He also knows how to make a point about living well, living fully, and not wasting the time given us. As in, kindly, not watching too many movies, if you will, as each hour spent watching TV shortens your lifespan by an average of 22 minutes.
I had exhaled, at last. I finally allowed my compulsion with my weight, my body and whether or not someone (anyone) approved, was looking at and validating me be left by the roadside on my journey. Letting go of that enormous weight allowed me to pick up my stride. By my mid-fifties I'd written two prize-winning books. By the end of my 60th year I'd returned to horseback riding and stood at the top of Kilimanjaro.
I had a lot of time to make up. To say the least.
I had spent some forty years of my life in the grips of eating disorders. While I'd been successful, and still am, at keeping 85 lbs off, I still suffered from disordered eating, which kept me house bound or hiding in bathrooms even as I ran a successful consulting business. I have to wonder, had I not been constrained by such illnesses, what on earth I might have achieved.
That of course is a question for our culture, and a very different article indeed.
The BF is apartment-bound in another state, trying hard to find coding work. At 52, he is feeling imprisoned by the conditions of Covid, credit debt, a changing world of work and the feeling that hits many of us at middle age: that time is indeed running out. Like so many he is short on funds and long on anxiety.
It's not my place to advise him or anyone else for that matter. I can only say this:
You and I have the same 24 hours everyone else does. What you and I do with that time, given our unique circumstances, is up to us. I am not going to moralize about what you should do. Just that perhaps, it's a good thing every so often to ask the hard question about how you are spending that time, whether in anger or regret, or in some kind of gratitude and joy, no matter what circumstances we inhabit.
I responded to a writer yesterday who, like me, has kept a lot of weight off for thirty years. She is watching a few pounds creep back on. I've noticed it, too, albeit she is two decades younger. My response to her brought forth some thoughts about the weight we carry, and the psychic/emotional weight that society is happy to have us carry about our weight, at the cost of our quality of life.
For me, the final line in the sand that I can draw as a determined old crab scrabbling to hang onto my body, my strength and endurance is my sense of humor. Age will take my face. Age may move a few inches here and there, but it will not, by god, steal my ability to make fun of it. Eventually, the tides will claim my body, and what animates this skin suit will be taken away by the waters.
If all I am to this world is whether or not I was able to sustain an 85-lb weight loss for the rest of my life, I fear I might be something of a disappointment to my creator, whoever she is.
Age will take my face. Age may move a few inches here and there, but it will not, by god, steal my ability to make fun of it.
As you and I age, as the tides that wash over us take a little more each time, as those parts of us once so very young and vibrant begin to succumb to the laws of nature no matter how hard we work, we may be fortunate enough to gain courage even as we lose some physical agency.
The courage to truly live, rather than exist in terrible fear of the passing of time and opportunities lost.
I don't have a bucket list. I don't have the time to make one. I live my list daily, even as we peek out from beneath the weighted blanket of Covid quarantine and face a new day. As is our wont, many folks would vastly prefer to stay under that warm blanket. I plan, train, write, every day full of beauty and challenge. I am developing work contracts and new directions.
The difference is that I'm not hiding from life any more.
I hid in too many bathrooms for four decades. I know what fear does. Finding my funny pried me out. Finding my funny gave me my life back. For the three or so decades I may yet have, I don't have time for wish lists.
Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson are 83 and 84, respectively. Both are ridiculously rich men. Both are facing down the demands that running out of time creates. As for their movie, well. Money, as Nicholson's character Edward realized as he lay in a room in his own hospital, couldn't buy him his health. His happiness. Time. A do-over with family or friends. He learned a great deal from a scholarly mechanic about life's real meaning, and what can only be bought with the willingness to risk.
Risk loving, laughing, living out loud.
I scrape by on a disability income and what I make writing, which I dearly love and had always wanted to do. But I'm rich as Croesus. I'm doing what I most love, living where I have always dreamed, getting ready to head over those vast waters which will one day claim me, my stories and my insigificant history. Another ten million in the bank would not substantially change how I feel. Despite all this generation's fascination with the Elon Musks and Jeff Bezos, I wouldn't care to be a psychotic asshole with so much money that my life was consumed by the hoarding of yet more, and the hurting of so many in the process of said hoarding.
But that's just me.
One of my favorite lines out of the movie, and one which I suspect made my BF cry, was this from Morgan Freeman's character:
"...My pastor always says our lives are streams flowing into the same river towards whatever heaven lies in the mist beyond the falls. Find the joy in your life, Edward. My dear friend, close your eyes and let the waters take you home." (author bolded)
I have no idea where those waters will take me. In the meantime, I am heading out with a kayak and a paddle, a raft and sails, to have as much fun on those waters while I am still able to stay on top of them.