I posted on September 1, 2009 a somewhat whimsical piece titled “Getting Old is Not For Sissies”. Read it again if you like, but a short summary is that I was whinning about the things I could do in my youth that are now far out of reach, and the subtle, and not so subtle, changes in the landscape of my body. Every thing I said then, I double down on now, three years later…and more. No, I’m not going to give you an itemized list of the things that are going awhack in my physiology, but I will tell you that the pace is accelerating. I know there’s a word in the English language that means “to accelerate at an accelerating pace”, but like many other things, I can’t remember it. With respect to the functioning and non-functionioning of my body it’s the reverse. My body’s ability to deal with the normal physical demands of life are decelerating at an accelerating pace. Oops, I guess I’ve mixed metaphors, but you understand what I mean. I don’t want to tend towards fatalism, but I suppose that at some point one’s personal speedometer slams into zero and the lights go out. I think I prefer that, however, to an asymptotic line which continues to approach, but never reaches, zero. I certainly don’t want to spend a lot of time just in sight of the finish line, but overly dawdle on getting there.
But I digress. I wanted to spend a moment on another aspect of aging that becomes more clear to me as time passes. No it’s not about loss of short term memory. We all understand that. It’s about how we think about things once we start playing late in the fourth quarter. It’s about our view of how we fit in to it all, and it’s all about what’s important in the end. Winston Churchill famously opined that if you, show me a young conservative, I will show you a man with no heart, but if, on the other hand you show me an old liberal, I will show you a man with no brain. I think he got it half right. Certainly the center of my emotional and intellectual life, as a young man, was no where near my heart. There was one thing that mattered to me as a young man, and that was me and what would satisfy me and only me. I was, as the bard famously wrote, “…climbing young ambitions ladder”.
In our most recent presidential kerfuffle, there was much ado made over Paul Ryan’s adoration of Ayn Rand and her magnum opus The Fountainhead. I, unlike many purported progressives, got it. For I, too, once fancied myself as a coming Howard Roark. You know the schtick…Only the best shall survive. Rugged individualism. To the winners go the spoils. A meritocracy begets the best democracy. If one works hard enough, long enough and smart enough, one will surely arrive at the top of the heap… So Winnie was at least half right, I was a young conservative and very little, if any, of my behavior was guided by my heart. No soppy eyed liberalism for me. Suffice it to say, that empathy wasn’t my long suit. If I’d been forced to state succinctly my personal philosophy it would have included the notion that everyone pretty much deserves what they get, or maybe better said, they get what they earn. I dunno where this came from as I certainly could not have been accused of having been born on the inside track. So I got it backwards. Rather than a liberal in my youth and a conservative in my dotage, I’ve done the opposite.
At some point in the midst of my business career I, along with a group of fellow executives and spouses, attended a lecture on the topic of development of human potential. Yes, I know. I didn’t want to be there either. It was a pop psychology kind of personal cheerleading session. I remember naught except for one statement he made. He was speaking to us as couples when he said that the females would become more masculine as they aged whereas, we males would develop more feminine behaviors as we approached our end game. My first thought was, oh no, my wife would, at some point, start to grow one of those little mustaches that adorned the upper lip of the babushkas that guard the door of every Russian public building. Yikes! Of course, I dismissed the idea, never giving another thought to this bit of pop psychology/physiology.
Now, in the fullness of time, I understand that there is more than a modicum of truth in what he said. No, S. does not have a mustache, nor have I started to use mascara, but we both have changed, and I think for the better. I’ll not even attempt to speak for her, but as for me, I plead guilty to a certain wetness around my eyes any time I hug one of my grandchildren. I no longer have to win every argument with my darling wife (she may contest this), and I am willing to look for the good in those who I would have earlier disdained. I tend to think more about giving and less about getting. There is less black and white in my thinking about the affairs of man, and consequently, situational ethics makes more sense to me now. I’m pretty sure there is more than one way to get to the goal line or to live ones life. I believe that contributing to a social safety net for those in need is not only a responsibility, but is a moral imperative even if they may not “deserve” it. Watching even the sappiest of movies is liable to provoke a need to blink back some tears. I’ve developed an appreciation for the cosmos and a curiosity about how man may fit in. I enjoy weeding the garden and harvesting its produce. I look forward to the first wildflower of spring. I’ve grown to abhor violence in all of it’s manifestations. I now am willing to accept that I’m not always right. I’m willing to trust my instincts about people. I am no longer judgmental about how others live and love. And perhaps, best of all, I care far less about what people may think about how I live my own life.
I don’t agree with George Bernard Shaw that “youth is wasted on the young”. But it’s pretty clear that being young is different from being old(er). As Shakespeare wrote in The Tempest, “what is past is prologue”. Or as my old pal Ed H. said after having missed an eighteen inch putt in his eighty second year, “hell, I’m just glad to be still on this side of the grass”. Conservative or liberal, young or old, soft or hard, feminine or masculine, I’ll continue to cherish the process of becoming the man I’m going to be.