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I’ll take Twain’s advice about growing older

May 29, 2014 |

By G. Michael Dobbs

I’m celebrating a birthday as you read this. No, I don’t expect any cards or presents.

I’m hitting the age of 60, which is certainly not unique, as everyone born in 1954 and still alive will be reaching that milestone sometime this year.  There are millions of us.

When I reached 30, 40 and then 50, I wasn’t fazed. But 60 is another matter. At those previous ages my life was still a long journey with many unrevealed bumps, detours and pleasures. I believed I still had time at each of those ages.

I don’t have that same feeling at 60.

Now, thanks to my upbringing as a Baby Boomer, 60 comes with a loaded message. When I was a kid, turning 60 meant you were on the doorstep to retirement and taking a step to becoming officially “old.”

Remember what it meant to turn 60 in the 1960s and 70s? You were just a few short years away from getting that retirement dinner, a gold watch and a hearty handshake. You were being put out to pasture to enjoy your “golden years” and to make room for younger people in the workplace.

Today, of course, is different. I know that I will work until I die. Will I ever have the money saved for that 1960s version of retirement? No.

I will never experience living in some retirement community zipping around in a golf cart and wearing white shoes with my one-piece leisure wear. Part of me says, “Thank God!”

Another part of me wonders if I have will have the time to finish the books I’ve started – I’ve got a new one at my publisher now and another one-quarter finished. Writing is so engrained in me that I know I will be doing it until I no longer can and for that I’m glad.

If you have something you love to do you have a stability in your life that helps you through the changes age presents. My father, for instance, continued making furniture until he physically no longer could.

Two important friends have served as additional role models to me. Film producer Richard Gordon maintained his business until the day he passed. Myron Waldman, one of the animators and directors at the classic Fleischer Studios, continued drawing until his death at age 96.   

Of course, will I be too busy trying to augment my Social Security and pension earnings to keep myself in Ritz crackers and cat food to write as much as I would like?

I’m making a dark joke here, but for many seniors, as we well know, making choices between food, heat and medications is a daily struggle. Also a challenge is trying to find employment at an age when too many businesses would prefer hiring someone younger to whom cheaper wages can be paid.

In a perfect world, we all would feel secure enough to completely retire and to live out our lives doing what we enjoy. This is not a perfect world, though.

About the only thing I know about my future is that part-time employment is part of it. I should get used to saying the phrases “Plastic or paper?” and “Would you like to make that a combo?”

Since I believe in karma, I am now seeing that I must have thought ill of some of my elders back in my salad days. I’ve found some younger people I’ve encountered view me as either a quaint antique to be patted upon my head or as a cranky relic to be endured and corrected.

When I look in the mirror I see the excess weight and the grey hair that have come with age, and yet through that I still see my younger self. Yes, I’ll have my eyeglasses checked.

I will say one thing: I’m glad I was young when I was young. Being young today doesn’t look like as much fun.

To help guide me through these confounding days: I’ve assembled some words of wisdom from writers far more insightful than me. Perhaps my fellow 1954ers can take come comfort in them as well.

Oscar Wilde: “The soul is born old but grows young. That is the comedy of life. And the body is born young and grows old. That is life’s tragedy.”

Ambrose Bierce: “Age: that period of life in which we compound for the vices that we still cherish by reviling those that we no longer have the enterprise to commit.”

George Bernard Shaw: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

Mark Twain: “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line at news@thereminder.com or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.

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