Old man

The Thinker by Rodin

The boundary between middle age and being an old man is increasingly fluid, but I figure I’m officially a geezer. Today I turn sixty. Which means I can’t realistically call myself middle age anymore. So geezer works, except it’s no big deal to be in your sixties these days. And since most of us will live into our eighties and maybe beyond, it’s hard to say you are old when you still have a lot of life ahead of you.

Unquestionably though most of my life is now behind me. Probably at least two thirds of it is in the past. From the perspective of being sixty, aging is a weird thing. Aging simultaneously feels both very fast and incredibly slow. The past reveals itself in brief snippets of memories but mostly it slipped by as a continuous stream that unfolded so fast you could not concentrate on its unfolding. Until I retired at age 57, most of life was like being on a treadmill. This is not necessarily bad. Living an engaged life keeps you from too much distraction or pondering things like your own mortality. For most of us, life is bountiful, not necessarily with happiness but certainly with events that we must surmount. Along the way we learn plenty of lessons. If we are smart and have the time, we focus on the lessons so we are unlikely to repeat them.

Much of my life has been really interesting. If forced to pick an optimal time to enter the world, 1957 would be about right. It has been sixty years of great change, great sorrow and awesome events. The other day my wife and I went to see Hidden Figures, the story of some amazing black women who were instrumental in the success of the American space program. The climax of the movie is John Glenn’s first flight in 1962, a successful but abbreviated three-orbit journey around the world, the first for an American. It’s one of my earliest memories. I was age five at the time and was watching the launch on TV with my mother and probably some siblings in Scotia, New York. I believe she was ironing through it.

Glenn was one of many luminaries that died in 2016. But I remember that day, as well as the first moon landing and many spaceflights before an after it. I remember coming of age during the civil unrest of the 1960s and the protests during the Vietnam War. I remember being outdoors clapping erasers when I learned of John F. Kennedy’s assassination and the moment at work when I heard that the space shuttle Challenger had exploded. I remember being caught in downtown D.C. on 9/11, smoke from the Pentagon rising against an otherwise deep blue western sky and a long trip home.

I remember punching cards to program a computer, the pre-Internet age when exploring cyberspace meant using a 1200-baud modem to dial into local electronic bulletin boards. I rode the crest of the information technology revolution into a successful career. I watched countless technologies rise and fall as we tried to perfect this Internet thing. I remember when using a web browser meant using Mosaic and using a PC meant typing commands from a DOS prompt.

Not bad for the first sixty years of life. Moreover, I never had to serve in any wars because I was never drafted, although I did have to register with the Selective Service. Life has been sometimes harsh, but in my case it was more kind than harsh. I was fortunate in many of life’s toughest decisions. Moving as a young adult to the Washington D.C. area proved very valuable for feeding a career and building wealth. We generally bought and sold houses at the ideal time. Stocks recovered just in time (thanks Obama!) for me to retire with some wealth in 2014. After a couple of years of reshuffling our lives we’ve retired, relocated and are primed to enjoy the geezer years right.

Things do change with age, and sometimes for the better. The impetuousness of youth is gone. The ability to savor life seems enhanced. The body doesn’t work quite the way it used to, but after six decades you would not expect it to. There is much to look forward to in this last stage of life. Research says this is the best time of life. So far I agree. I’ll really celebrate my birthday in March with a London theater tour. Waking up every day with the ability to do what I want and in financial security is a great blessing.

So I begin my seventh decade acknowledging that I am officially a geezer. I am doing my best to enjoy this time of life in the midst of national and international upheaval. Hope I can keep it going. I’m reminded of the words of the poet Robert Browning:

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
the last of life,
for which the first was made.

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