To me, old age is always fifteen years older than I am.
– Bernard Baruch
So, I just recently turned 65. I’m officially a “senior citizen,” which implies a general condition of being cast off. I would prefer to be thought of as an aspiring “elder” with the connotations that native people (or First Nations folks, to be politically correct) give it.
I don’t feel “sixty-five,” whatever that is supposed to feel like. I am most fortunate to be free of ill-health. My gait so far is unaffected. I still retain some lightness on my feet, and my range of motion in general is only marginally shrinking.
I still practice aikido and tai chi to a certain extent, although regrettably I haven’t had the opportunity to do much Western fencing in the last several years. However, my level of interest in physically demanding pursuits has declined, and that, rather than not being able to do them, has become more a sign of aging.
I am also fortunate to have my wife as a companion of over 25 years: to have someone who cares for me, and for whom I can care.
The main thing about these milestones at 65, or 80, or 30 for that matter, is the opportunity for reflection. They give an excuse to take the time to consider what the years might mean.
I graduated high school in 1969. That is a whole cultural era away. Or maybe more than one. Mostly I think of the music, how important and central to my life and the lives of many of my generation it was: the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Electric Prunes. Wait: you don’t know about Paul Revere or the Prunes? You’ve missed out. Perhaps you haven’t had “too much to dream last night“?
The power of music in the culture was a convergence of technology, music industry ripeness, the Vietnam war and the resulting counterculture. In an era without iPhones or multiple other digital distractions, including not even home computers, hard as that is now to imagine, music was central.
Its rebelliousness, youthfulness and exuberance were constantly being challenged and undermined by the status quo, but there was a balance of sorts for a while. And, as hard as it was to see at the time, there was even a slow alteration of what was understood to be the “status quo.”
The fragmentation and loss of cultural significance for music as a whole is evident to me looking back. Those of younger years might think that the efforts to stand out by Beyoncé, or Lady Gaga, or Sia amount to something, but not much really. A meat dress worn by Lady Gaga doesn’t really cut it, although I do like Sia’s songwriting. The efforts to get noticed in a fragmented musical environment overwhelmed by the powers of the modern corporation take on amusing forms.
I listen to the old music, and some of the new, as I finally get down to the first draft of a novel that I’ve been thinking about for years. I am 30,000 words plus into a science-fiction thriller coming-of-age save-the-world extravaganza that, fingers crossed, I will actually finish some day before I die.
It is a time to reflect on mortality. I like the idea of living as if we will live forever, of plans uncompromised by the reality of some future end. But the eventual end does give poignancy to what we do, and who we do it with, and how we meet it with our hearts.
I have lived longer than either of my parents. My mother died of multiple sclerosis in her early 60s. My father died of a stroke in his mid-forties. I realize now how short, how brief, their time was here. I’m proud of them for what they were able to accomplish in their fleeting sojourns on this world, and sad that many of their dreams remained unrealized.
I have often been a late bloomer in my life, although others might not recognize the blooming as of much note. But I have, and it gives me encouragement as I diligently peck away almost every day at the novel, wearing down that huge mountain, like a bird trailing a scarf across its rock periodically — it will shrink, if time is enough.
Speaking of blooming, one of my colleagues at work (I have yet to retire, perhaps in a year or so) was discussing with me about my plans and his. Our conversation concluded by him saying, “Well, everything is coming up roses then….”
That caused me to think, “Yes, everything will be coming up roses, or if not, at least I may have the privilege of pushing them up myself.” That’s not a bad fate, to perhaps someday be a ground for roses, or even more happily to think about, for some wildflowers….