I was on a walk with my old friend, Tom. We are both 78 years old and we were school buddies from age 6 through 18, when we graduated high school. Then we went our separate ways. Tom ended up retired in Florida and I ended up retired in jolly old England.
But one day we both ended up on a walk in Lincoln Park in Chicago, where we grew up. The walk was our constitutional. Old men need a daily constitutional.
“Hey Tom, lets go for a drink.”
“Sounds good to me, Dave.”
“Look, there’s a tavern with the name, “The Old Man”. Lets go in and have a beer.”
“Okay Dave, the name sounds interesting.”
We entered and sat on green padded stools and ordered two steins of beer. We sat sipping our beer and looking at our reflections in the huge mirror behind the bar.
“Ha, ha, look at us, Tom, two heavy-set old men.”
“We both look timeworn, Dave, but we’re still smiling.”
There were several oil paintings on the walls of old men with interesting faces staring down at us.
“Maybe we should put our pictures up there.”
Tom smiled and said:
“Yea, with the caption, “Everything is Transitory” or “Nearly everything hurts and what doesn’t hurt doesn’t work!”
We both laughed.
“Hey Tom, how are you dealing with old age?”
“Sometimes I feel very alone.”
“Doesn’t everybody, Tom?”
“Yes, I guess so, but it becomes more exaggerated in old age.”
We pondered aloneness for a minute.
“But, on the whole I’m feeling good, knock on wood,” Tom banged his knuckles on the wooden bar, “But I know our age is associated with illness, loneliness and death. How do you feel about getting old?”
I took a long sip of my beer.
“Well, I’m a writer in my retirement and that keeps me busy. But I know I’m getting a little forgetful and my physical and mental performance has been reduced the last couple of years.”
I thought for a minute about the questions the elderly think about.
“Here’s a question for you, Tom. How are you dealing with mortality?”
Tom laughed, “Hey buddy, what is this, Existential Questions for the Elderly?”
“Something like that,” I said, as I ordered two more beers.
“Well, I enjoy a bit of acting and singing which keeps me busy and this enjoyment distracts me from that question. But I do realize my remaining time is becoming shorter and shorter, but I use that thought as a motivator to live each day to the fullest.”
“Good on you, Tom, we have to live within the limitations of old age and adjust to the boundaries of human existence.”
“I’ll drink to that,” said Tom, taking a big gulp of beer.
“We finally get to the BIG questions. What meaning does this life have? And, is there something that transcends this life? It is essential to find a personal answer to these questions.”
“Why?” said Tom, with a quizzical look on his face.
“For psychological reasons, the old person must answer these questions so they don’t have a seed of unrest and get drawn into a depressive world.”
“How do you answer them?” Tom was putting me on the spot.
“Well Tom, as far as the meaning of life goes, I was productive and I contributed to society in my work life. Now, I find satisfaction in my writing and I hope it gets some people thinking about how to better their lives. I make my own meaning out of life. As far as something that transcends this life, I believe there is nothing beyond our death. I am an atheist and I believe that our death is final.”
“Yes Dave, I see, from what you have said, that failure or denial in dealing with these questions in old age can result in psychological disorders.”
“I believe we can be happy if we live in the present, Tom.”
We shook hands, finished our beers and walked out into the autumn mist singing:
“ALWAYS LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE.”