Aging: Walking Through a Diminishing Landscape

What happens when you get older is things go away.

People go away, and we all knew that. People who pass away leave a hole in your personal landscape. Maybe it’s a pinprick– the person was a friend of someone you know, and a lacuna is created in their conversations, but it doesn’t impact the view of your horizon. Sometimes they are a celebrity or a prominent person in society, and this creates a larger hole, one you notice. And sometimes it’s a core person in your life, and the gap is the size of a house, or a mountain.

This isn’t a column about death. We know this about death, and better writers, poets and bards than me have addressed it. Things go away too though… and people leave in other ways than dying.

In my thirties and forties, people I knew started to retire and move away, changing my landscape. Most were work friends or neighbors. My doctor retired, creating a spate of activity so that I didn’t miss him directly at first.

In my mid-fifties, I retired, and put the entire work landscape in my rearview. That was not a sad choice, but it changed my landscape.

My mechanic retired.

That was a hard one, since he had taken care of my cars for three decades. He was local, very local, and had fire department connections with Spouse, part of the community, not just a service person. A row of hills vanished from my landscape.

Restaurants changed hands, and changed menus. Bookshops closed and familiar buildings disappeared from my mental landscape.

Last month I drove into Santa Rosa to a locally owned shoe store, to find it had become part of a sports store chain. The owners, who were in their seventies, wanted to retire and none of their children wanted the business, so they sold and moved to somewhere in the south, where they can live well on their proceeds and retirement plan. Poof! A hole on the horizon.

In October the coffee guy next to Pacific Market is retiring. Steve has earned it! He’s hawked coffee there since 1994, first from a actual wheeled cart, then from the booth the store let him build. I’m happy for him. (I’m happy that after about ten years I’m finally remembering to call Fiesta Market by its name, Pacific Market.) I’m happy, but I’ve been getting coffee from him since 1994. It’s not like I’m not spoiled for choice in this town. It’s just… a hole.

Is this what getting old is? Walking into a landscape that grows sparser and sparser? I can’t really say that. My landscape is filled with new things, new connections, achievements I never thought I would really have. And yet… maybe this is just a boomer whining about change, but as a person who navigates by landmarks, I find the walk out of the populous, hilly valley of my past into a stark plain more than slightly unsettling.

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