When I was twenty I had a suspicion that I would crash and burn at age thirty. The idea of thirty seemed like such a very long way away when viewed from twenty. But then I became thirty and decided that I was just getting into the swing of things, that thirty wasn’t an end, it was a beginning. At thirty, the idea of being sixty five became the alien target. But here I am, my sixty fifth birthday on the books and I am thinking in terms of eighty. As time goes by, my old gets older. I wonder, when my time does come, if I will feel old then, or if I will feel young.
I am already suffering from the disorientation that happens when one generation hands off to the next. Never static, time moves on and things change. The people who are celebrities are virtual strangers to me, the people I identified with issuing obituaries with depressing regularity. When I look at the world through the unblinking eye of television, everyone seems so young. I see the soldiers interviewed as the return from war and think, my God, what babies they are; seventeen, eighteen, twenty …and all thinking about how far away their thirtieth birthday is.
I think about myself when I was seventeen and serving my country, and I can’t put myself there anymore. My youth, although in ways is still bathing me, is a long time ago. It was indeed a different world as well as time, and it’s a marvel, the things I have seen emerge as my life matured. As a young man, a computer was a huge device employed by banks to confound its customers. It’s difficult to envision a world without computers everywhere. Even in toasters and tooth brushes. Five channels of fuzzy moving images has turned into a sea of content, long burst from the confines of broadcast television. Video is the staple of information sharing, and in resolutions so high we can see the pores of facial skin. What would I see at age eighty?
Making it to sixty five is especially celebratory because the doctors thought my cancer would take me. But I have outlived their prognosis by three and a half years. My cancer brings me pain, which is made manageable by drugs, but my life has a sense of normalcy . Like water seeking its own level, people seem to adjust their perceptions to their circumstances, which is why so many perspectives exist. I have found my way to feeling satisfied with things in spite of the handicaps and discomforts chronic to me these days. Unlike a few years ago, I have a sense of hope, enough to buy a home. For a time I worried about making future plans –even a few weeks in advance, given the chemo complications and the looming threat of my demise.
Like most Americans, my greatest source of angst is the economy, and the threatening effect of living on entitlements. Medicare, Social Security and Veterans benefits are all considered fair game for the chopping block. The real possibility of government shutdown could easily destroy the delicate financial balance I must live on, just as it could for many people. These things are like my version of the cold war bomb scare of the fifties, except that I can’t reassure myself by building an underground shelter. Of course, old people are known to have unreasonable fears and I am, after all, sixty five.
Trying to see if there’s any difference in things since I turned the odometer past six-five reveals nothing I can detect, except that the advertising I see on the web seems to include a lot of walk-in bathtubs, reverse mortgages, and term life insurance policies. Come to think of it, my postal mail is doing likewise, especially with AARP solicitations. But otherwise, I live my own idea of normal, surrounded by family and friends and swaying and bobbing with the breezy currents of irony.