I know a woman who assiduously works crossword puzzles in her effort to fend off Alzheimer’s disease. As wishful thinking, her pastime mirrors the vogue some years ago for accelerating the brain development of newborns by playing Mozart for them in the crib. She is almost fifteen years my junior and notes every lapse in memory, every misplaced shard of trivia. She is not by nature a hypochondriac. About today she is quite stoical. She is a strong and competent, no sensitive plant. It’s tomorrow that triggers anxiety. Behind the fear of dementia, I suspect, hovers the fear of death.
People roughly my age seem to have developed a rather flamboyant obsession with what we used to generically call senility. I don’t remember adults fretting about this when I was a kid. If anything, it was the object of humor. That is not virtue-signallingly sensitive, perhaps, but probably healthier. Boomers, as usual, make it personal.
On this date, April 16, in 1939, George Santayana wrote in a letter to his friend William Lyon Phelps, the American writer and academic: “. . . I heartily agree that old age is, or may be as in my case, far happier than youth. Even physically pleasanter. I was never more entertained and less troubled than I am now.” At the time, Santayana was seventy-seven, not exactly ancient.
I aspire to Santayana’s condition and thus far, at age sixty-eight, have experienced it. Aging has been mellowing – less worrying, less striving for attention, less desire to argue and set others straight. The ego seems to have settled on its proper dimensions. I’m content to be a spectator; not, in any sense, an activist. The world is a far more amusing place than it once was. Comedy is everywhere. Nicolás Gómez Dávila, the Colombian thinker known a Don Colacho, says in one of his aphorisms:
“To mature is to see increase the number of things about which it seems grotesque to give an opinion, for or against.”