"Now, for the moment, they are gone - the tubes and wires, the clergy, my wife and daughter-and across my chest is a kind of grate, as if, were it not there, my heart might escape, swell and break through. But it was contained.
My breath is shallow. I shuffle like the old man I have recently been claiming to be: not pretending now, but the real thing. Tubeless and wireless, I look in my lavatory mirror, and the face is grey almost as death - but death departing, not homing in.
Sometimes during the eleven weeks I was in Israel, Mary Ellin had her sixtieth birthday. Katherine and Benjy gave the party, their first, in their new apartment on Washington Heights, and read my greetings from the Holy Land. I celebrated our thirty-fifth anniversary in a sleeping bag on the cooling sands of the Sinai, and when I was back in Jersalem Mary Ellin phoned to tell me that Elizabeth, our eldest was expecting a baby, our first grandchild next May.
Coming up from walking Molly, our dog in Riverside Park, I had felt a little odd, short of breath, slightly dizzy: not much to go on, a ghost of older symptoms. After climbing every mountain in the Holy Land, to succumb to a few steps from Riverside Drive to Claremont Avenue, which was what I was doing, seemed ludicrous.
So I am back where I have been many times before. They have, I am told split me open like a chicken, rearranged things, and sewed me back up, as good as new, or at least a lot better than I was.
Mary Ellin reports that her father called, asking before she could tell him the latest development, to talk to me. He had just got the card I sent him from Jerusalem, and with that curiosity which at ninety-eight is still not satisfied, demanded an accounting of what was going on in the land of his forefathers. Mary Ellin gave him my current address. "Oh, my God," he said, which was, in my opinion, an appropriate response. The in-laws' flowers are conspicuous on the windowsill along with a handmade Christmas card from our artist son, and the animals from the Christmas stocking our middle daughter has put together for me: a papier-mache zebra, a glass frog, a stuffed seal. Beyond the pane, past the largest Gothic church in Christendom, a mountain in grey stone, are the pigeons, the peacocks, and the chickens, in the sun of the cathedral yard.
Temper the wind to the shorn Lamb-where do the old enter into that prescription? Are the old shorn, or are they covered by the wool of experience? Are they bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young (certainly not a shorn image) the truly shorn, having not yet grown their winter coats? It is another of those sayings that flips under examination, and then flips again. Did this latest sickness, did my sojourn in the Holy Land, Shear me or furnish me with another , thicker blanket? And is it more desireable, after all, to be shorn-better to be exposed than protected?
Indeed, at sixty-six I have been camping out in the Sinai, in the sand in a sleeping bag, celebtrating a distant anniversary with questionable food an drink? Should I have been staring sleepless across a dry, stony valley to a soaring cliff that could be, under an almost full moon, a sleeping city, a deserted monastery, or a derelict temple? Experience would seem to answer "yes."
So approaching three score and ten I have managed a peak experience. Does a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and back make me a little short of being old? Pilgrims are of no particular age. But perhaps pilgrims who come back are not yet quite old. And now with my quintuple bypass I am back yet again.
As you move through your life your hope in miracles, in luck, in happy accidents, in immunity, disappears, along with your dread of the opposite. The miracle is not something that happens to you - it is all around you, and you are embedded in it, moving through it, part of it.
Accustomed to limits, to guidlelines, to markers, I stand here stunned, amazed. I haven't had such a sense of space since I was twenty-the splendor, and the terror of it. All that out there ahead of me, around me, to be explored, to be prospected, mapped, traversed.
The Holy Land and the operating theater are out of sight. For the moment the space is clear, and it is up to me to cross it.
The above is from a consideration of old age in the form of a journal, kept in the years leading up to the author's seventieth birhday.