From Guanajuato, where we’re settled for the winter.
For quite a few years I’ve been receiving a “a-word-a-day” in my inbox—an unusual English word with a definition and etymology, some examples of its usage, etc. Sometimes I pay attention, but lately I’ve been deleting it without even looking. For some reason, a few days ago, I paused and clicked.
Senectitude: noun: Old age. From Latin senectus (old age), from senex (old). Ultimately from the Indo-European root sen- (old), which is also the ancestor of senior, sir, sire, senate, senile, Spanish señor, and surly (which is an alteration of sirly, as in sir-ly). Earliest documented use: 1796.
A friend of mine here in Guanajuato who’s been having some health problems told me that 2017 was, for her, the year to learn how to be old. As I look around at my friends, I guess that’s something we’re all working on. I hope we’re getting it right.
I’m happy to report that Jack is back to his old (read that how you will) self—energetic, enthusiastic, following doctor’s orders to “enjoy his good health while he has it.” He’s happily walking up and down the streets and callejones of Guanajuato.
Because I’m a hobbling mess. I fear I have unwisely ignored my own senecitude, assuming that the persistent pain in my hip and leg that began sometime in late September would pass. Such things always do. Did. Not this time. It came and went, but it’s back with a vengeance. So, I’m not my usual Guanajuato self. Hardly walking at all. Learning to use Uber. I’m seeing a doctor here — a “traumatologist” (candidate for a-word-a-day?). I’m now taking anti-inflammatory medication and trying to avoid going up and down stairs, as instructed. Laughable, as those of you who’ve been here know. I’m also walking with a walking stick–hoping that its resemblance to a ski pole makes it appear that I’m suffering from some sort of athletic injury.
In my repose, I’ve been reading the science fiction novel Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, the January selection for a book club here in Guanajuato. About every third chapter I am reminded that I don’t understand time. I know it’s passing too fast of course. But you know that thing about time slowing down as you approach the speed of light? I just don’t get it. My son, Galen, who majored in physics, tried to explain it to me once. Something about two trains passing, going in opposite directions, looking at people through the windows. I think he was trying to make it simple, but it wasn’t simple enough for me and he gave up.
In Sparrow, I’m being challenged to understand how a generation can pass on Earth while inter-galactic travelers age only a few years. I don’t think I have to grasp the physics of it to grasp the novel’s gist, but I pause often to acknowledge my puzzlement.
I find myself remembering a podcast I listened to several times a decade ago, a 2008 TEDTalk by Richard Dawkins called The Strangeness of Science. In this 20-minute talk, Dawkins claims that humans have evolved to live in a middle sphere and therefore struggle to understand both the molecular and the cosmic. Understanding those domains contributes nothing to our survival as a species, he says. Indeed, acting on the understanding that solid objects are mostly empty space would only result in a lot of bruised bodies and sprained backs. That’s somewhat reassuring.
Of course, some humans have overcome that struggle, which is why I accept as fact that time slows down as we approach the speed of light. But I don’t understand it. Light. Time. Unrelated concepts in my stuck-here-on-earth brain.
I’d like to believe that if I tried hard enough I would get it. Maybe there’s still time. Maybe next time I see him Galen would like to try again…