Monday, January 12, 2015

90 Is 60

Birth, copulation and death. Birth copulation and death.
That’s all the facts, when it comes to brass tacks.
Birth, copulation and death.
                                                -T.S. Eliot

This little limerick says it all. But in Korea, they add one more. They have three grand ritual ceremonies (as do most cultures) for birth, marriage and death. But the fourth is your 60th birthday. Called Hwangap, it celebrates the completion of a cosmic cycle and one’s status as a revered elder. The children honor their parents with a feast, food, wine, music and dance.

Three years past my own non-event, I’m still waiting for the reverence from my culture. (I don’t think the AARP membership offer or senior discount at the movies counts.) But it’s also sobering to think that at this age I should be a wise elder when I’m still playing patty-cake with three-year olds as my main job, zipping around on my bike and flirting (in my mind!) with young beautiful women. But according to Wikipedia, modern medicine in Korea has upped the ante and most folks celebrate it at 70 years old. And by my calculations in the U.S., it could be that 80 is the new 60 and in some cases, even 90.

Today my mother-in-law Pam Shultz has reached 90. I lift a cup of reverence toward Michigan to celebrate! But it’s a mixed story, as she is in her 4th week of not getting out of bed while her body and mind are slowly shutting down. She seems to be surviving on daily ice cream and wine. Today she is surrounded by two sons and a granddaughter and various friends and the report is that she still recognizes them all and has been awake in short spurts. But she clearly is edging toward the exit gate and there will be grief and sorrow and sadness for those of us left behind, no escaping that. But also gratitude for the gift of her long and fruitful life (well-expressed within her hearing at her art show a few months back) and joy that she will fly away from her failing mortal body and be released into the next world. I don’t say that casually, but after enough experience witnessing those struggling to keep their flame lit with an increasingly deformed candle, there comes that moment of relief.

Meanwhile, Pam, while you are still here with us, enjoy your family and friends and savor that glass of wine. With ice cream.

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