Daniel Lee Fee says that growing older is like a white-knuckle ride over Niagara Falls, undertaken by a man old enough to know better.
It’s all the same inexplicable, mysterious business,
I’m telling you
being a small boy who can’t wait to grow up,
tramping around in his father’s oversized shoes and large coat and Sunday hat;
then suddenly seeing by the wrinkled face and body in the mirror
that it is you, yourself, looking back at an old man
who must already have lived his long modern life, fully.
Only the foolish people in the middle years
can pretend to believe they have stopped the ticking of the Great Clock
that counts everything down to zero inside each one of us.
The middle-years people are busy accumulating.
They make promises, over confident of their abilities to get and keep
more of life; they break promises, leaping greedily
to the ever-greener grass on the other side of one or another
of life’s many ostentatious, well-wrought fences.
Didn’t Robert Frost say, if you have neighbors, you have to have fences?
Well, I tell you, riding the great Rivers of Time flooding by ceaselessly
is like going over Niagara Falls, naked, in a barrel.
You will not find queer aging listed in the program booklets of the X-Games Festivals.
Only the watching people in the gathered crowd imagine,
in a million different ways, who you are, where you have been,
how it is that you have come to this moment,
going over the falls, naked, in a barrel.
You are too busy, I tell you, hanging on to the sides of the barrel
to invent much of a story line at all about how and why you got to this point.
Well, I did let out a yell , once or twice, myself –
I must confess—sort of a yelp, really, or a gulping cry for help—
in those few, startling moments when I thought I glimpsed a friend or two, their faces
recognizable against the blurred crowd who stood on the shore.
You know, people who might have heard me shout and recognized me back,
even though they were middle-aged and knew better than to dive in,
after an old geezer like me who was damn fool enough
to still be out there, riding the unstoppable Flood.
You probably imagine that I’m thinking
just like the old fool I am
that I’ll be the first one to go over the falls, naked, in a barrel
who will live to tell about it.
But I’m not thinking that, I swear. I’m too busy, just hanging on.
See, my old bony knuckles are pressed white over the barrel mouth rim.
A blotch of spit has foamed at the corner of my mouth,
still open, but now speechless.
The great roar of the falls is like an earthquake now,
drowning out every other sound,
driving every thought out of my head,
shaking me, shaking even the solid the ground where you stand
on those far shores, watching me.
—Photo: Kevin Timothy/Flickr
* This essay originally appeared on The Good Men Project.