I’m in the dining area of our “open-concept” (the lyrical term for “small”) apartment intently staring at the oil paintings, sepia photographs and polished wood carving hanging on the wall directly before me. I like what I see. I am primarily absorbed in the juxtaposition of the art works; they’re irregularly mounted with a studied lack of symmetry. The combined effect is soothing. Although we each have a desk, the dining table doubles as a communal platform for our laptop computers. Admittedly it is a minor nuisance (as it was this evening when my physician joined us for dinner) to clear the table for visitors, but otherwise we’ve adjusted conveniently to the required space allocations.
As I say, the assortment of stuff on the wall pleases me greatly. It was however a construct which required time and amendment to develop. Specifically the original collection was sparser than it is now. When my elderly mother broke up her house we “inherited” several further paintings, two of which I had originally gifted to my parents and one of which is a family heirloom. Unquestionably all the artifacts gratify me. I have in the past frequently spoken of the exceeding pleasure I derived from this little apartment ab initio and there has been no subsequent dilution of that embryonic gusto.
Neither have I ever been tempted to weaken the force of the environment by the calumny of some distorted reasoning (for example that my enthusiasm is merely the product of retirement euphoria). No, this place easily stands on its own and I shall never get enough of it. In short it’s a collection of my favourite things shown to their greatest advantage by daylight from a southern exposure on two sides.
I will however confess to no small degree of complacency, itself an achievement following months of effort. This smugness is not merely gloating triumph; rather it is the self-satisfaction of having tackled a worthy task and completed it. I can’t recall the last time I was able to look myself in the mirror and say that there is nothing further I might have done. I have positively no regrets; and indeed I have considerable pride in where we are today. Each of us in my family circle, in his or her own particular way, is riveted to the idea of getting things in order – more so my elderly mother of course. It is a matter of some imperative. There are inevitable transitions to be made at the well-defined “stages” of life and we have all reached the “old age” paradigm. A signal focus of the model is disengaging and letting go, an endeavour which can become as broad as the imagination permits, not just things, but ideas, beliefs and people even. Initially it was not a project which I cultivated but it has become impossible to ignore its compelling nature. It is virtually genetic, just as nature teaches each of us how to die. That is perhaps an inappropriately strong rendition of the theory but it captures the unalterable necessity of the enterprise. I prefer to view the process not as one of declension but rather of fulfillment. The singular advantage of old age is that the persuasive element of need is overpowering and inescapable. Whereas youth is easily distracted but nefarious appetites and desires, the elderly have the benefit of resolve and goals. And let’s face it, we haven’t a lifetime before us, so let’s get on with it!