Thursday, July 21, 2011

Me and Thor Are Battling Elli

Thor Wrestles Elli. Lorenz Frolich (1872).

Dear George,
So today is my birthday. I might be 47, but I also could be 74. When I first woke up I thought it was the former, but now I’ve decided it’s probably the latter. That’s weird. I can barely imagine turning 60, much less anything beyond that. To soften the blow, I went to my file cabinet and pulled out a print I ran across years ago of Thor wrestling with Elli. Thor, you’ll remember, is the hammer-wielding Norse god who is associated with thunder, lightning, and mammoth strength. In the book Gylfaginning Thor and his companions visit Utgard and are invited into the hall of the giant Loki, the king of the city, where their power and skills are tested through various challenges. After being humiliated in a drinking contest, Thor gets angry and wants to get even by wrestling. Loki says that, because Thor has proven so inadequate, it would be an embarrassment for any of his men to wrestle with him. So Loki calls for his grandmother, Elli, an ancient woman whose name in Norwegian means “old age”. Elli, the mythologists tell us, personifies Time, Old Age, and Death. Thor and the old woman begin to struggle, but “the harder Thor strove in gripping, the faster she stood; then the old woman essayed a hold, and then Thor became totty on his feet, and their tuggings were very hard. Yet it was not long before Thor fell to his knee, on one foot.” Loki stopped the fight at that point. Later he admitted to Thor that his opponent was far more powerful than she appeared and that Thor’s efforts were, in fact, astonishing – greater than anyone had ever been able to do. Loki said that no one “has ever been and none shall be, if he become so old as to abide ‘Old Age,’ that she shall not cause him to fall.”

Thor’s story has stuck in the back of my mind for some time. Even though the most powerful gods can’t defeat Old Age, Thor proves that we can fight back against her with all our might. This came back to me the other night when we were watching TV and the commentator made some remark about life stages. I asked Katja what life stage we’re in now. She said gloomily, “The end-stage.” That took me back, but then it seemed a little pessimistic. When you retire you sometimes think you’re just sitting around waiting patiently for your demise. But that’s not really the case. I did a little Googling around, and it turns out that gerontologists distinguish three stages of post-65 aging. “Young Old” (ages 65-75) refers to recently retired persons whose activities are governed by their interests and desires rather than health concerns. “Old” (75-85) are persons who are more influenced by health, safety, and frailty issues. And “Old Old” (85-95+) are persons who need assistance in order to live independently.

“Young Old” doesn’t sound as shocking as it once did, especially if you put more emphasis on the first word than the second. But I do notice that I’m getting near to the end of my Young Old Years. Instead I think I will adopt my sister-in-law Ami’s view that we no longer need to pay attention to chronological age at all, but should just be concerned with how we’re doing and how we feel. That’s definitely good advice. I think I’m doing pretty well and I’m feeling pretty well too. Blog-writing and Suduko keep my mind busy and my neurons firing. And hikes with sheepdogs and line dancing keep my muscles loose and limber. It is a time of life, though, to make the most out of each day. I’m making that my resolution for my upcoming Young Old Year.

G-Mail Comments
-Donna D (7-21): What a wonderful way to approach your bday... Referencing thor and elli. I think these days young old should be 70-80 and the others follow from there. You are definitely still more young than old!!
-Ami G (7-21): And a happy, happy birthday to you! Much love. Ami and Bruce

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