‘Are you afraid of old age?’ I asked Camp after I sat down. On my walk to the pub I’ve been reflecting about the time when I thought fifty was old and sixty was shaking hands with the grim reaper.
‘I’m not afraid of getting old but I fear not being able to wipe my own ass or getting out of bed on my own or even not to be able to tell the bathroom door from the closet door. I am afraid of losing my ability to function, to decide and to recognize and to have to wear diapers. Getting old is easy. One day at a time.’
‘Like you, I don’t want to lose anything, least of all my mind or my continence,’ I said. ‘The question is what can we do to prevent any of this.’
‘As I said before and I quote Clint Eastwood again: Don’t let the old man in.
The less one worries about aging and the more one focuses on doing something,, the better one’s quality of life.’
Equally important is to keep engaged, do something you like or are good at, especially outdoors. It can be gardening, bird watching or photography. If you’re a musician, an artist or writer, then you’re one of the few lucky ones because to have that creative outlet is paramount to a healthy mind.’
‘That all sounds good Dr. Camp but what do you do to keep the old man at bay?’
‘I try not to think about it, and thanks to my store I get to see people from all ages and walks of life, including young people. To be connected across the ages is good fun and life affirming.’
‘What this pandemic really highlighted is the sad spectacle of how we separate out the old and feeble and house them in ghettos and silos, called care homes. It’s a black mark on our modern societies that we warehouse the old and separate them from the rest of society to exist in limbo, waiting for the end.’
‘A bit bleak there my friend, but essentially true. We farm out our kids to day cares and our old to care homes, in order to live our intense modern working lives and build our middleclass empires. Many of us retired couples live in homes big enough for large families with multiple bed- and bathrooms. The kids are gone, sometimes in another part of the country, living in small and even shared apartments, and the parents are home alone in their large houses.
‘Both my parents died in intensive care-homes,‘ I said, ‘not aware of their surroundings and unable to control their most basic bodily functions. Kept alive with drugs that nobody could deny them for fear of pain and distress. Neither one of them wanted it to end like that but had no control or choice at the end. Taking them into our home was not possible since they needed around the clock care and monitoring.’
‘Healthcare hasn’t solved the aging process so much as has slowed the dying process. As old Hobbes put it in the 17th century: ‘One cannot deny the evidence that for many of the elderly, life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and long.’
‘Or to quote Dylan Thomas: Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
‘Let’s face it, at the end it doesn’t matter how we lived but how we die. We can be scoundrels all our lives and die in peace surrounded by priests and family or we can be saints for our good deeds and die in agony, alone and helpless.’
‘Or we can choose when to go, make sure it’s at least a dignified exit,’ I said.
‘Yes, except a third of us will not know who, where and what we are at the end, much less make choices. Life is after all a zero-sum game, we start with nothing and end up with nothing, we come from nowhere and go back there. From dust to dust.’
‘You’re rather gloomy Camp, no wonder mankind invented religion, gods and devils just to have somebody else but us to blame.’
‘Nothing like the prospect of a lala-land in the sky or a fiery cauldron deep underground to keep the minions in line. Fear of the unknown works best. Repent at the end of a murderous life and you’re in line for the after-life Disneyland.’
‘So, what’s there to do,’ I asked, sloshing the stale beer around in the mug. ‘It’s kind of depressing to even think about it.’
‘The secret is to keep on going on, trying to have fun and enjoy the small pleasures in life like a good book, a walk in the park, a smile from a loved one, a pint with your friend. Don’t dwell in the past and don’t expect anything from the future, definitely no personal rewards or punishments in an afterlife.’
‘Enjoying the fine weather boys?’ a cheery Vicky asked. ‘Oh, you didn’t finish your beers, something wrong?’
‘No, it’s just that we forgot where we were for a moment. Sitting in paradise, feeling healthy and sane with an angel serving us.’
‘You boys been smoking that devils weed, it can’t be the beer,’ Vicky said.