When I was hearing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in high school, particularly the song, “When I’m 64,” I didn’t think about myself ever reaching the age of 64. It seemed so far away, and I never fantasized about the kind of life I might have at that age. My wife reminded me of that song by singing it to me when I turned 64 this year.
I now feel as if I inhabit an altered version of Millais’ Autumn Leaves, one in which people my age are standing next to a pile of fallen leaves. That presence of death informs every day. I often think about the people I have known whose lives were cut short. I think about those family members who are no longer a part of my life.
In many ways I feel lucky to have lived as long as I have. I wonder, too, how I have managed to live so long without significant health concerns. My mother lived until her 80’s, despite her having had breast cancer in her 30’s. My father lived until his 80’s as well. I apparently can expect a certain amount of longevity because of the genes I inherited from my parents.
I would have quit smoking much sooner if I had thought more seriously about myself getting older. My lungs are scared from having smoked cigarettes for twenty-four years. It has been twenty-one years since I quit smoking. I now inhale a corticosteroid twice a day to control my asthma and sometimes find it difficult to catch my breath when climbing stairs or when the humidity is particularly high. The air conditioner, I have discovered, is much better at filtering the air than the heater. It is easier to breathe during those times of year when the air conditioner runs, probably because the air is cleansed of cat dander.
Because of that uncertainty of how much time remains in my life, what I try to do is make each day enjoyable in some way—by listening to music, taking pictures, walking in nature, and spending time with my wife. Having given up as many processed foods as possible, I like waking up to a breakfast of fresh fruit, carrots, and toast with peanut butter. I think of it as the best meal of the day.
There are places that I would like to see, but I am not much of a traveler anymore and find it incredibly difficult to sleep in hotels. There are things I still want to achieve, such as writing essays and writing more poems, and I hope to have the time to do so.
Having reached the age of 64 for four months now, I am reminded of those friends and family that I have lost and try to do what I can, in terms of exercising and eating very little processed food, to live as well as possible for that uncertain amount of time that remains.