Muhammad Ali died this weekend. He was 74. Only four years older than me.
What is my experience of life in these later years? I think the best metaphor is that the road is narrowing as my capabilities diminish. I have a first experience of organ failure: my pancreas doesn’t work as it should and I have Type 2 Diabetes. This narrows the road by pushing me towards a no/low carb diet if I want to manage my blood sugar without injecting insulin. It also drives me to increase my exercise, since that too brings down blood sugar.
Not only does the road ahead seem narrower, the forest around it too is thickening. I am traveling deeper into my imagination and there is much that is unknowable ahead. The means of managing this seems to be acceptance: recognition that it is right and natural to move towards an end and to be scared sometimes – as if there is anything new about that!
So, why are older people, along with children, the most happy? Perhaps it is not just that their duties are diminished, but also that they have acquired some awareness that ups invariably follow downs, that which is broken can be repaired if not always renewed and that endings are not so bad; no more vulnerable than beginnings. At such times we need others around us, as Ali had his family.
And those diminishing capacities? Well, inspiration is my redeemer here. And re-framing is a potent tool. You see, this picture is not a road diminishing into a thickening forest; it is Darwin’s Thinking Path, the very road that he walked as he cogitated the theory of natural selection which has transformed our understanding of how we came to be here, and how diversity can be understood without the need for a supernatural Maker.
Unless, of course, you prefer to think of us as made rather than selected…