At threescore-and-ten years of age, plus a few, I am no longer cavorting on ice-rinks and athletic fields-of-play with the same wild abandon that characterized my youth. Not even close.
My ice-hockey skates have lain, undisturbed for lo, these many years, in a box in my storage locker. My inline skates were recently given to my grandson, whose feet, amazingly, have grown to my size. And my baseball gloves (the ‘relic’—floppy, scuffed, and worn; and the ‘newbie’—still-shiny, with a lovely, leathery smell) lie beside each other on a shelf I never look at.
My competitive pursuits these days consist of golf (from the forward tees), tennis (‘doubles’ only), and snooker (on tables with oversized pockets). My comrades and I—no longer so quick, strong, and skilled as once upon a time—are unhurried, more frail, and prone to error now. And that’s on our good days!
I’m sure the same refrain runs through their minds, as through mine: O, how the mighty have fallen!
Not that I was ever that mighty, mind you. The visions of grace and glory ever running through my youthful head were more likely delusions of grandeur. And the triumphs I always looked forward to were more often trials and errors.
It might have been said about me at various times over the years (snidely, of course, by persons with varying degrees of sensitivity) —
- He’s a legend…..in his own mind.
- He’s not as good as he once was; but he might be as good once as he ever was.
- He’s not a has-been; he’s a never-was!
However, the one I deem most accurate, given my propensity for self-aggrandizement, is probably—
- The older he gets, the better he was!
That one comes closest to the truth. When I absolutely ‘crush’ a drive off the tee now (which is rare, and which means about 150 yards), I bemoan the fact that I used to regularly hit it almost twice as far. Not true.
When I double-fault into the net at a crucial point in the match (which is not-so-rare), I protest that I used to reliably smash aces past my opponents. Also not true.
And when the cue ball ricochets off the ball I intended to sink, and itself literally leaps into the pocket (which is often), I smack my forehead and exclaim, “What a fluke! I used to make those shots all the time!” But I didn’t.
It strikes me that the phrase ‘I used to…’ is a prominent part of my conversation these days.
I suppose it’s a form of self-defence to claim a level of excellence that never truly existed, an attempt to ward off the all-too-obvious failings of the flesh brought on by rapidly-advancing years. Even more fragile than my aging body, after all, is my vaunted male ego. Yet sadly, the first gives out before the second.
I recall a computer-translation into Russian of the old saying, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” When a Russian-speaking person was asked to re-translate it to English, it came out as, “The wine is good, but the meat is rotten.”
Exactly how I feel!
Still, I continue to declaim the glories of my yesteryears to all who will listen (the number of whom is fewer and fewer all the time, I am noticing). I am out there whenever I can be—on the golf course, at the tennis court, around the snooker table—rarely winning at the games, but always seeking the former stardom I pretend to remember.
“The important thing is not who wins,” I try to tell myself. “It’s who shows up to play.”
And strangely, the showing up is somehow made easier by a still-burning desire to do better next time, to improve, to regain the degree of mastery (illusory, I know) once taken for granted.
After all, the older I get, the better I…..well, you know.