Soon the time will come when I can no longer play the recorder. Well, maybe not soon, but the time will surely come, if I keep on living. And it seems unfair and sad that, having finally found a way to enjoy playing music, away from the tensions and compulsions of my early experience with the violin, I have only another ten or at most fifteen years in which to do it.
I went to a memorial the other day for a woman who had lived a life brimming with gardening, dancing, and art. She had excelled at all these things, but one by one she had had to give them up–first the gardening, then the dancing, then the art. By the time I met her she could barely hold a conversation. She kept shaking her head, apologizing, wanting me to know that she knew what was happening to her.
How the old apologize! For a while, in college, I played violin/piano sonatas with an old colleague of my father\’s. After a lifetime spent in some exalted music circles, he was losing his grip. He would forget our appointments, couldn\’t remember which piece we were playing, lost his place over and over. And he apologized, and lamented, and insisted on telling me that he knew what was happening to him. All his pride was focused on his awareness of his decline, on the one thing in the core of his being that was not affected by dementia, not diminished by his inability to find his place on the score or to remember what he had said two minutes ago. He may have been losing his mind, but he clung fiercely to the awareness that he was losing it—and that was both his torment, and his only consolation.
On my therapy dog visits with Bisou, I watch the various ways in which my fellow Wake Robin residents deal with the myriad losses that age brings, and I feel an urgent need to build a large reserve of humility to see me through the coming years. I had better make peace with the idea that I am not my writing, or my music, or my hair, or my ability to walk the dog or use the bathroom by myself. Like a tree shedding leaves in the fall, I will probably live to see each of these abilities leave me, one by one. How, I wonder, to find a way to do this well, to submit with grace, and to say, with deep acceptance: yes, this is who I am now?