Turning Flipflops

I recently crossed that great divide between seventy and eighty years old. Seventy isn’t so bad. Some people even call it middle age. (Bet me!) It no longer has the distinction of great longevity because many people live into their nineties or reach one hundred. The last parent of the Nine Nifty Nicitinos, Vivian Forst who is like a second mother to me, will soon be 106!
I try not to dwell on my age, nor do I live in denial of it. One acquaintance wouldn’t permit the year of her birth on her tombstone lest people know how old she was. I hate this phrase that my niece, Dee. frequently used, but it’s appropriate: “It is what it is.” She also said, “They call these the golden years. Well, I say, bleep the golden years!” (I cannot use her actual word in this paper!)
Some people are blessed with beauty, good health and great energy until the end. My grandfather Kelly’s sister, Laura, wallpapered her living room, including the high ceiling, when she was 84. Knightstown’s beloved teacher, Jessie Nay Wagoner was still lovely at age eighty, and so was our fifth-grade teacher, Lucinda Newby. Miss Newby died suddenly of a heart attack when she was visiting Nice, France, with cherished, younger relatives. What a way to go!
As Henry David Thoreau admonished, I try to look into myself and be aware of my life at all times and suck up every drop of it as living is so dear. I’ve come to understand that we turn flip-flops through time: Our past becomes our present and vice versa. One of the advantages of old age is that one sees and savors life’s connectivities.
We celebrate birthdays because each year is a gift, a triumph over sad events, ill health, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune as Shakespeare put it, and even death which all must confront. As the inventor of the essay, Michel de Montaigne, wrote in the 16th century, “Each man beareth upon him the entire stamp of the human condition.” He understood that regardless of race, culture, gender, or social class, all humans are alike in the essentials: I am you, and you are me.
One advantage that human beings have over animals is that we have the capacity of savoring all three time zones — the past, the present, and the future. We visit the past in our memories and can leapfrog into future time via our imaginations.
The works of fine artists enrich Bill’s and my life and nourish our inner beings. When we visited London, Paris, Rome and Florence we made a beeline to view their wonderful art. My birthday gift from my generous husband is treating Vicki and Tom to a weekend in Chicago at my favorite hotel and spending a day at the Art Institute which is a world-class museum. The Musee d’Orsay in Paris where Bill and I have spent many delightful hours is co-sponsoring a huge exhibition of Paul Gauguin’s works. It will be a delight to return there with Vicki now that she’s a mature woman.
Mentally leapfrogging from the past into the future, I already stand before and soak up pleasure from some of my most loved paintings at the Art Institute: Caillebotte’s Parisian street on a rainy day . . . Seurat’s “Sunday on the Island of La Grande Jatte” . . . Picasso’s wonderful portrait from his “blue” period of an emaciated and impoverished “Old Guitar Player” . . . some of Monet’s water lilies . . . Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and his lovely painting of a man in a rowboat . . . I shall travel back into the past when I contemplate his painting of his bedroom which Bill and I visited in Auvers during a trip.
My eyes mist over when I flip-flop from present to past and back again. Oh what beauty I have been privileged to experience! Oh how lucky I have been! wclarke@comcast.net