We are renting a condominium right on the water at Sea Ranch, about 150 miles above San Francisco. I have been going to sleep when I get tired instead of when a particular television program ends, usually about 9:30 or 10:00. In the early morning, I turn over in my bed and look at the rocks jutting out of the Pacific Ocean outside our window. When the sun is one-eighth of the way up the big black rock, it’s around 7:00.
This morning my husband woke up as I stirred and asked me what time it was. The sun was creeping up the big black rock, and I guessed, “About 7:00.”
“Only the shadow knows,” he answered.
“Who knows what lurks in the hearts of man.”
“What evil lurks in the hearts of men.” He amended my imperfect memory.
Only someone of at least my own age would be able to come up with this silly exchange. The Shadow was a popular radio program in the 1950s. It’s a loss not to be able to discuss and joke about this and other iconic cultural events and figures of another era.
What about the marginalizing of your instincts, though? In my aunt’s assisted living home, they play big band music, which brings comfort to the residents, and makes me want to dance in a way that electronic music never will. My aunt’s tablemate is 100. I wonder what she does with her memories of the Charleston, the Castle Walk, Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, and Dorothy Lamour, not to mention the First World War.
After 70 or so, there is increasingly little to respond to in one’s surroundings. I kept up with modern popular groups and singers for years because my children were listening to them, but gave up around Dave Matthews. My music – the Rolling stones, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Johnny Mathis, Elvis Presley – are history now. Only the Beatles are stored in my students’ iPods.
Losing this automatic connection to the stimuli around an older person dulls the memory and the reflexes. It’s inevitable and just happens. Maybe that’s part of why we are more serene.