“The Beverly Hillbillies” was a new hit TV show, the first James Bond movie was released (“Dr. No”), Sam Walton opened the first Wal-Mart, and I was born into the world.  It was 1962, and Russian missiles in Cuba aimed at the United States had everybody a little nervous (leading to the installation of the hotline between the White House and the Kremlin). I, of course, remember none of this. What is my earliest memory? Who can say, given the unreliable and nonlinear nature of memory? It’s all pretty fuzzy, but then so is last week.

The biggest trigger of memory for me is music. Just this week I was listening to music from the seventies, as I often do, and remembering the heady days of my late teens. That was a special time for me – my first jobs (Caldors, Big G grocery store, Arco – I had three at once), my first car (a ’69 Mercury Montego), graduating from high school – all entries into the magical world of adulthood, which seems to lose some of its magic once you’re there for a while. Be careful what you wish for, as they say.

My best friend got me the job at the gas station during my last year of high school, and a little over a year later I would own it. Being my own boss appealed to me greatly, and I now realize this was because of my independent and introverted nature – I didn’t like working for others, and still don’t. I’m not cut out for it.  I am very sensitive to how I am treated, and have a strong enough work ethic and sense of propriety that I don’t need someone breathing down my neck or second-guessing me all the time. Just leave me alone and I’ll function best. Entrepreneurship was for me, and it worked very well.

That song on the radio (“Cruel to be Kind”) put me back in that place for a brief instant, and it felt like it was yesterday. I don’t feel all that different in some respects from my 1979 self, except for the convictions and self-assuredness that thankfully come with age. While I felt somewhat defective back then due to my introverted nature, I now see it as perfectly normal for me and I wouldn’t trade it away even if I could. It does concern me some as I get older, as it’s easier to be independent and somewhat of a loner when young and able to take care of oneself. I don’t think I’d make a good nursing home resident, but then who does?

Why do we age? I suppose life would be pretty stagnant and boring if we didn’t. Life necessitates growth, and everything that grows and expands eventually reaches a point when it must change into something else.

Excuse me while I change into something more comfortable.

Coping with old(er) age

Today I turned 48. Funny how as you get older, you’re always a bit shocked at just how long you’ve actually been around. Lordy! But many don’t feel their chronological age, including me – usually. So, to hell with it! I try to forget how “old” I am. I’m just me. I don’t need to prove my age in order to buy anything or enter anywhere (well, at least until Senior discounts), so why keep tabs on age? The only time I’m even mindful of it is when I’m passed over for promotion (or not hired to begin with), seeking to attract someone (as you age, character does this more than looks) or when I have to check off one of those age bracket boxes on demographic questions (which always seem to have a 44-49 box…. so I have another two years to go before I move up to a new box!).

A few years ago I was really having a hard time with middle age… you know, feeling worthless, past my prime, out to pasture, all those scenarios. But I’ve found there are benefits to being older, not the least of which is feeling more confident in who you are – knowing what makes you tick, operating from a more solid center. Not worrying so much about what others think. Being more tolerant of others who may not yet have the wisdom you do. Being a teacher, offering counsel. Feeling freer to express yourself without ridicule. And heck, I notice that those even older than me seem to have a better social network than I do…. Seniors know how to network and look out for each other. So there’s something to look forward to. I think I’d love gated community living.

So it’s not so bad. I’m still fine tuning things, but for the most part I’m increasingly content with my life. I’m discovering new things all the time (in music, literature, film… all of which I hold dear), and looking at things I thought I knew with new scrutiny. Learning never ends. I remember when I was going to the local community college there was a much older woman in class with me. I thought that was so cool. I never want to stop learning. There is so much to know and experience. But you can’t lose hope. That is the killer, and I’ve been there – especially when my life fell apart a few years ago. I lost my home, my business, my life’s savings, my only sister, and the normal use of my left hand. Hope was scarce at times.

But it eventually returned, first sporadically, then more steadily. It took time. It is more a state of mind than about circumstances. Rose Kennedy, who experienced so much tragedy in her life, said “Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn’t people feel as free to delight in whatever sunlight remains to them?” Robert Bly offers that “where your wound is, that is where your genius will be.” Beethoven, who cruelly lost the one sense he so desperately needed, created his masterpiece (the Ninth Symphony) while totally deaf. Tchaikovsky did similarly in spite of massive self-doubt. Though his life lacked any satisfying romantic relationships, he composed the score of what is universally seen as the ultimate musical depiction of love (the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture). There is no killing the human spirit. As Jesse Jackson used to say, “Keep hope alive.” How? Focus your thoughts differently. Careful what you believe, as it will no doubt come true. We are walking, talking self-fulfilling prophecies. “According to your belief, so be it unto you.”

Books, music and films are great ways to snap yourself out of a funk, as is the company of an old friend. I recently met one for drinks and found it quite refreshing. Of course it can also be disquieting, as it can remind you of who you used to be, back when you originally knew them. But that’s OK. Everything you once were, and everything you will become, is a part of you now.

Neil Diamond, a man whose music has always had a direct line to my emotions, has a great new song that he performs at the end of his concerts (replacing the iconic and equally great “I am, I Said.”) It’s called “Hell Yeah,” and is basically his reflection on his long life in the spotlight, and his firm contentment with its quality, in spite of disappointments. “I loved it all…. this crazy life around me/it confuses and confounds me, but it’s all the life I’ve got until I die… time is all we’ll ever need, but it’s gotta have a meaning/you be careful how its spent, cause it isn’t gonna last…. if they ask you when I’m gone, was it everything he wanted, when he had to travel on, did he know he’d be missed? you can tell them this: Hell Yeah he did. He saw it all. He walked the line, never had to crawl. He cried a bit, but not for long, hell yeah he found the life that he was after, filled it up with love and laughter, finally got it right and made it fit, hell yeah he did.” (there’s a great live performance of this song on my main page here).

Who could ask for anything more? Stay hopeful…….