Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.
Recently repeated by Neil Tobin, necromancer
People start to disappear as we get older.
I’m not talking about the fact that “old people” in our society are forced to become invisible.
I’m not talking about los desaparecidos (the disappeared), the Argentines who were secretly arrested and murdered by an Argentinian dictatorship.
I’m talking about our acquaintances, people we know, people we run into around town, people whose businesses we shop at regularly, people who are on the periphery of our individual communities.
I was reading the obituary section of our local paper (yes, I look at the obituaries regularly), and I saw the name and photo of a guy I had known for many years, but who, I realized, I had not seen for the last five years or so.
It was more than that our paths stopped crossing. I think his path had withered. That’s what I realized as I read his obituary. When I stopped seeing him in his shop, I didn’t inquire. Perhaps I didn’t want to pry and intrude, or maybe I just didn’t want to know. It’s not that unusual for an “old person” to just slide into oblivion. One day they’re here, one day they’re not.
And perhaps he allowed his own path to wither.
There’s something about community empathy in this. And ageism too.
We are all part of the disappearance trajectory in at least two ways: First, because we allow it to happen out of habit. Second, we disappear ourselves out of embarrassment or shame.
These are broad-brush statements, and they do not apply to everyone all the time, but conscious aging invites us to discover which pieces apply to us and when. If we are misshapen or walk with a walker or drive slower or struggle opening a jar or don’t hear as well as we used to, why are we looked upon as if we are doing something wrong? And why do we feel we are betraying ourselves simply because we are changing?
It is outrageous and unacceptable that we make others and ourselves feel shame or failure just for living.
It would make life more wonderful, not just less horrible, if we had the sensitivity and awareness to keep an eye out for the changes happening to those around us.
Our culture celebrates the human ability to adapt and grow, but once we enter our last third of life, this cultural celebration stops. This stoppage contributes to our being disappeared by others and helps us make ourselves disappear.
Children who suddenly manifest a serious illness are still the precious human beings we love, just different than before. Our friends and family who become “confined” to a wheelchair or develop dementia are still the precious human beings we love, just different than before.
Our whole world, which is aging, is still the world we love, just different than before.
Marc Blesoff is a former Oak Park village trustee, co-founder of the Windmills softball organization, co-creator of Sunday Night Dinner, a retired criminal defense attorney, and a novice beekeeper. He currently facilitates Conscious Aging Workshops and Wise Aging Workshops in the Chicago area.