(Apparently I wrote this back in 2005.)
Today is Maj Ragain’s 65th birthday celebration.
65. The age of traditional retirement. The age at which, in a culture obsessed with youth, in a culture of Jon Benet Ramseys, of prepubescent high-gloss crotch-shot magazine-fashion allure, the age at which one becomes, old. Officially, old.
My wife Karen tells me he is a remarkably young-looking 65. I make a mental note not to mention this, or the next thing I know he’ll be painting her toe-nails, and once a man has painted a woman’s toe nails, his lips gently blown the wet tight-bound reflective lacquer-sheen to dry, there is no telling the levels of sensual podiatric intimacy that may ensue.
What does it mean to be old in a country where people routinely poison their faces into wrinkleless masks, where the natural history of expression, the skin-seams of laughter, smiles, tears and worry are so avidly erased by injections of botulin toxin, botox, one of the most poisonous substances on the planet, as if one’s life could be improved by being unlived? What does it mean to be old when the storm surge of electromagnetic multi-national corporate propaganda only targets demographics with pimples or in pampers, because their elders are living inside particle-board starter mansions for which have been mortgaged their next 30-years of discretionary spending? When that storm surge scrims the horizon of manufactured desire like the surf of a broken giant bonsai-pipeline wave, the awesome psychic spumante of televised national consumer demand, whose froth we live inside?
These are not the days of Anthony the anchorite, the Father of All Monks, the Coptic Christian who was born in 250 A.D., and who lived to the age of 105. That was an era of self denial, a time when men engaged in a kind of “austerity Olympics”, when stylites lived for years on tall fingers of desert rock, when men such as Anthony could not hear of a feat of deprivation without aspiring to surpass it, when greed had been turned inside out, and as if anticipating Thoreau by over a thousand years, men sought wealth in proportion to the things they could live without.
It is a myth of our own making that old age is a recent phenomenon. It was high rates of childhood mortality that reduced the life expectancy of ancient times, and those who lived simply and who were not taken by epidemics, or killed by the fraudulent cures perpetrated by doctors, often lived beyond their allotted three-score years and ten. It is men like Anthony in his 105 years who remind us just how little life progress has brought us, how simplicity and privation suffice as tonics not improved much by peroxide, insulin, Prozac, Viagra and all the poison a face can survive.
And so, however officially old you may be my friend, I know in your heart you are still a toe blower, and that no one has or ever will genetically engineer your spirit. I know your face is untempted by the latest poisons.
I know that you see the world for what it is and not for its masks; the blood-smeared killing coat and the Christmas unemployment line, the ruby-throat blown across an ocean, the vast luminous light that fills eternity, and bathes our lives in the shadow of God.