There is a scene at the end of the l956 film, “The Body Snatchers” in which Kevin McCarthy is running down a line of stopped cars in the rain, pounding on the windows, warning people of the invasion of the body snatchers. No one listens.
I know how Kevin felt. Time is stealing my body, and I am…we all are…helpless to prevent it. The theft is diabolically slow, apparently to keep us from being aware that it is happening, but Kevin and I are aware. I view it with the horrified fascination of watching footage of people leaping from the doomed World Trade Center.
That it is “all a part of growing older” doesn’t work for me. That it is “just the way life operates” is so flimsy an explanation as to be discarded out of hand. The fact that we all age and are all robbed of what we once had may be true, but it does not make it right, nor does it mean we should just meekly accept it. Of course Time will win in the end. It always does. But I for one am not going gentle into that good night.
I have been chronicling the details of this theft endlessly in these blogs, to the point that I am sure you are tired of reading about it. I remember a guy I served with on the USS Ticonderoga, whose parents had been killed when their car was hit by a train. It was all he talked about, though they had been dead for many years. I seem not to be alone in being incapable of letting go of the past. For those like me, the past is a huge old tree to which we lash ourselves against the hurricane of time. It worked for John Hall and Dorothy Lamour in the 1936 movie “Hurricane;” why can’t it work now?
To recognize a problem is, unfortunately, not to make it automatically go away. I dwell on aging largely because I cannot comprehend why it is happening. It shouldn’t be happening. It can’t be happening. To everyone else, maybe, but not to me! How the hell did I suddenly find myself in this Bates Motel mansion of a body? I constantly have to resist the temptation to grab people—especially young people—by the shoulders and shake them until their teeth rattle, shouting “This isn’t me! I’m 20 years old, fer chrissakes!”
And even as I criticize my body for increasingly failing me, I feel guilty for being so ungrateful. It doesn’t deserve it. It’s really been a wonderful, eminently serviceable body which has given me a great deal of pleasure and on which I could always rely. Maybe not a Mercedes Benz of a body, but certainly a Toyota Corolla, and it has served me amazingly well all these years. It’s not fair for me to suddenly disown it, or criticize it. It can’t help what’s happening to it, and I feel terribly sad for it. And just as I bought my 1978 Toyota Corolla—probably the best car I ever owned—off the showroom floor and drove it for 12 years with an absolute minimum of problems, so has my body served me well from the day I was born up until my bout with cancer in 2003. It’s still serving me amazingly well considering all it’s been through, but I can’t help but look at newer models and wish I had one. Ah, we fickle mortals.
You will note, ladies and gentlemen, how in an amazing display of non-linear thought, we have, in one short blog, somehow managed to carom from Time being a body snatcher, through 1960 and 1936 movie references, to comparing bodies to cars. And you will note that at no time did my fingers leave my hand. What can I say? It’s a gift.
But much as I rant about the various cruelties and unfairness of aging, I am reminded of two little bits of wisdom which we all too often ignore: first, people often refer to life as being a roller coaster, it is seldom pointed out that nobody rides free. There is a price to be paid for the luxury of being alive, and it becomes more expensive as we grow older. Second (and you might want to write this one down): The only people who are as young as they used to be are dead.