A little more than a month ago my father died unexpectedly. He was eighty-three. Can death actually be unexpected at eighty-three? My dark suits were pressed and my white shirts ironed. I had a black Armani tie a friend had gifted me. But while my clothing was ready, my mind was ill prepared for death, for my father did not seem old to me. He was not an easy man or a warm man, perhaps not even a nice man. To me he was simply my father, and my father never seemed old. Old people act differently than he did.
In Maine I have a neighbor who is seventy-six. I see him stand outside his tiny condo smoking a cigarette and then go back inside to suck on his oxygen tank. I believe I hear him creak when he walks. There is a worn-out look in his eyes. He has that old person smell.
How could my neighbor be old and my father not old? For that matter, how do we know when we’re old? Was I old at forty? Fifty? How about now?
A few years ago a friend asked me this same question. “How do you know when you’re old?” he said, and I replied, “You’re old when you think about death more than sex.”