There’s a galah on the railing. The scavenger pink and grey Aussie, the gaudily dressed cocatoo, bold as brass, with a screech loud enough to blow the hairs out of an old man’s earhole.Speaking of old men, there’s one to my right, tottering into my elbow, who shares some similarilties. He’s got a shock of well preened white plumage, is florid from the brow to the sternum, and dressed in sultry beige. Like the bird, he’s also here for the free feed and the million dollar view. As am I.
I’ve been offered a seat with the Catenians, a fantastic group of retired catholics, who’ve managed to rope someone’s son into signing us all into the prestegious Sorrento Couta Boat Sailing Club. I’m here in place of my Mum, who is otherwise disposed having brain cancer, accompanying my super-duper Dad, just because I want to hang out with him. And because I never get invited to this place under other circumstances.
There’s only one other person under 60 on the deck, and he’s the ring-in club-membership-owning son. I am quickly placed alongside him – not in the traditional matchmaking sense, but probably so that we have someone to hold us back from jumping off the balcony. Because everybody else in the vicinity is talking about ill-heath and death.
The lovable galah before me has more titanium in him than bone. His wife is healthy, stands in an embrace of female crowd over there, being social and lovely. He’s been sent out to pasture – the kind that involves shuffles down the boardwalk with his decrepit cocker spaniel, absent minded chats with younger men at the golf course bar, and lots and lots of red wine. You have to hand it to him, he still flirts. His wife doesn’t like this, but he’s a wealthy man, and he’s done it for so long he doesn’t know any other way to talk to women. And there’s plenty of women to talk to – all his male friends are dead. Australian women on average live 5 years longer than the males, and given that we generally marry older men, that leaves plenty of us alone at 75.
But I’m only 37…. Only…. It’s a while since I’ve said that.
“Youth is wasted on the young” someone says. Oh, yeah, never heard that before.
“Retirement is wasted on the old” I retort, without thinking. I find I’m doing a bit of that lately. Blame it on stress, like everything else, I suppose.
But it’s true. we work all our lives to try and support our later ‘selves’ that won’t be able to work any more. It’s only a couple of hundred years ago that we would have simply died once we were too feeble to find our own food. Now, we live longer, and want more. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Personally, I’d like to live to 147. And I kind of relish the idea of gnawing on gold plated toothpicks and wiping my unmentionables with Louis Vuitton toilet paper, whilst flying above the world in my private jet fueled on puppy tears and dropping cases of Chateau Latour and $100 notes over the plains of drought-parched Africa (and Broadmeadows, Western Melbourne). Is there anyone I haven’t offended yet? Yes? Well, trust me, when I get old, I’m going to tick you off the list.
Or am I?
The one fortunate thing with being touched with a sense of mortality is that you can view life in a different way. The elderly on this Sorrento deck know this – they have lost half their peers. They band together. They clasp onto friends like lovers. They pop around with a casserole in a tupperware container whenever it’s needed. They enjoy looking at someone through the steam off a cup of tea in a way I wouldn’t have understood only a few months ago. They are always on time, and chastise those who squander it. Like Olatunji, they also understand that the present is a gift. The biggest problem of all is that by the time they realize this, they are old.
They want to climb mountains, study, dance, bungee jump, experiment and teach. But their bodies won’t obey them, nobody will listen to them, and everybody assumes they’re too doddery to understand the modern age. They have money to travel, but they can’t get insurance. They want to experience new things, but are worried it’s going to kill them. They know exactly what to say, but for some stupid reason, they either can’t hear the conversation, or can’t express themselves. And when they check into the hospital, nurses smile at them condescendingly, and call them “sweetie”.
So that is why you find areas like this. The Mornington Peninsular, about an hour or so out of Melbourne. The geriatric sea-change site. It’s the closest they can get to being on holiday – the beach, country roads, sleepy townships. And better still, their friends join them. They’ve saved the economy of the area, turned Rosebud from a druggie and dole-bludger’s escape into a quaint village with adequate hospitals and better golf courses. It’s wonderful for the young – it keeps the ancients out of the way and happy, and gives us somewhere to spend our holidays cheaply. But many of these gorgeous and crumbly old people wish they could be elsewhere.
So, the reason for this slightly bitter and self-indulgent post. I’m trying to see age and death from a different perspective. Not just the way it affects the person it happens to, but also those who love them. It’s hard, when a person you love is faced with mortality, not to get angry, blame the blameless, question the reasons. It’s a time when you become more spiritual, and then throw your faith away again, sometimes several times in the same day. So for me, I had to find a lesson. And it’s a simple one. This is the time for me to appreciate the present. No hopes, no regrets, and a big “thank you” to whoever it may concern that I have found this now, before my first hip replacement.
Pictures are from the Enchanted Maze Garden, on Arthurs Seat, Mornington Peninsular Victoria. Further information can be found linked here