Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

“A World Too Wide For His Shrunk Shank”

Originally posted on October 11, 2012

This age-ist phrase was used by William Shakespeare in a little speech given by the character Jaques in the play, As You Like It (Act 2, Scene 7), to describe the 6th of the “Seven Ages of Man.” This sixth age is older than the “Justice” (the 5th age), and senility, the seventh, age. The shank is the lower leg and the loss of muscle volume in the elder years.

Overall I like this general Seven Ages of Man passage—I’ve liked it since I was a teenager, and even illustrated it back then, though I’m ashamed at my own ageist stereotypes. I like the opening first phrase, “All the world’s a stage” to introduce the metaphor of life as a kind of theatre—this metaphor underlies my systemic development of Moreno’s role theory—I call it “Role Dynamics.”

But on another theme, contemplating elderhood, it occurs to me that for the retirement years, between 65 and heading well into the 90s, the drift from the vigor of the “Justice” and the frailty of the “Pantaloon” is very gradual indeed. The transition may take 20 or even 30 years—longer than all the time it took to get through the first four ages—the mewling infant, the schoolboy, the lover, and the soldier. Many people in my retirement community are pretty vigorous, but here or there, they begin the gradual slide. Indeed there are some who are a bit more frail, and other residence settings have a growing population of these folks. The point I’m making, though, is that this extended transition age has its own “strange, eventful history” of many sub-processes. (I’m in the middle of many myself!)

The world meanwhile changes and folks in my age group, in the 7th to 10th decade of life, we notice that these changes often involve a stretch of attitude. Lots of things—not just gasoline prices—movie theater tickets, etc.—have just gone up and up, and that is in fact emotionally stressful.

Some get grumpy about it, while others open to surrender—it’s an opportunity for wisdom-ing! Prices have gone up faster than inflation, our savings, social security—so we’re losing the value of what we’ve saved. Should we protest? Will a change of government help or hurt? Such concerns parallel all this.

Or is it that the world is becoming too wide for not just our shrunk shank, but everyone’s? (Many who have talked about the accelerating pace of change in the postmodern era of the 21st century have noted this.) Could it be that our generation just notices all these changes more poignantly? Could it be that the “younger generation” hasn’t got the time to notice, or the long history of when in the olden days things seemed, well, different. (Of course change has always been happening, and I’m just wondering if we elders notice it a bit more—that’s the point here.)

I’ve been reminiscing about the many ornaments of my life—the enjoyment of MAD when it was a comic book for a couple of years before it became a magazine; of science fiction and the work of the recently deceased Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and others; of the funny camp songs, popular songs, naughty songs, folk and show-tune songs—all which we sang. I learned a lot of the words to a lot of songs! But I find that few people know the words to songs, and even fewer in the younger generation. It might make an interesting survey. Has the world grown too large for my shrunk shank? I am quite vital and involved in a lot of things, but then again, I’m also falling behind in knowing (or caring) about the latest regarding television shows, sports, so-called musicians, glossy magazines, celebrities (they all look alike to me), etc. Am I just a fuddy-duddy or is a certain amount of this complex rather inevitable for someone who’s lived long enough.

Parts of the song “Young at Heart” resonate—and I sing it in the shower—but other parts seem foolishly age-ist. But again, that’s part of a culture that has offered more dental and physical health to mid-aged and elders than ever before, so the socio-cultural predicament of non-exceptional elders—our vitality and interest in celebrating it—is on the whole a bit new, too. Well, that’s enough rumination on reminiscence for now.

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