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  • Writer's pictureJames Ron

The Agonies of Old Age

I've been thinking a lot about old age. My father was recently in the hospital for heart and kidney failure, my partner's mother is losing weight for reasons unknown, and my own body is failing in subtle but unpleasant ways.

A lot depends on your attitude, they say. Sure. But when your kidneys don't work, it's hard to will yourself into a positive frame of mind.

The agonies of getting old were driven home to me recently by Yashar Kemal's The Wind from the Plain, a beautiful Turkish novel.

Kemal is one of Turkey's best known authors, a Kurdish Marxist who penned multiple books about postwar village life in the Taurus Mountains. His best known work is Memed, My Hawk, an account of a young boy brutalized by his village's headman, and forced into a life of banditry.

The Wind from the Plain chronicles the experiences of two older villagers - Halil and his arch-nemesis, Meryemdje - who confront the misery of their community's annual trek from their Taurus mountain village to the plains of Çukorova, located near present-day Adana.

The village leaves home each spring to hike to the coast, where they pick cotton and earn the bulk of their annual income.

This year, Halil knows he won't be able to make the journey; his body just can't do it. He is too proud to ask for help, however, and instead goes from neighbor to neighbor, hinting that his health is failing. His hope is that someone will take pity and offer a ride on their donkey or horse, prized possessions of a lucky few.

Halil eventually manages to shame one young man, Ali, into letting him ride their aging horse. Ali's mother Meryemdje is dead set against the favor, however; Halil seems to have wronged her deceased husband years ago, or perhaps Meryemdje just wants the horse to herself. She is similarly weak and fearful, just as terrified as Halil of being forced to make the trek on foot.

Torn between love for his mother and respect for Halil, Ali forces the two elderly villagers to share the one horse. Their combined weight kills the old steed, however, who collapses right in the middle of a freak storm.

Kemal is a master of inner monologue, and the reader experiences excruciating pain as the two older folks contemplate the fear of walking on foot. Neither wants to be a burden, and neither wants to ask for help, but the only way they can make it, is to ride on the back of a younger person. To ask, however, is an impossible imposition.

In America, older people are ostensibly cared for by all manner of social services, including wonders such as Medicare.

Nothing, however, can truly eliminate the indignity of losing one's capacity to physically manage one's basic needs.

All of us will age. For most of us, it's going to be really, really hard.

What a scary thought.

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