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I got caught in the tailwind of my old friend, Birthday, as he raced through another April. I admit that I lost my balance for an hour or two. “You’re old,” Birthday taunted as he flew past me on his way to outrun next year before I can blink.
“That’s not nice,” I shouted after him. “And besides, Old is the new New. Old, now that the Baby Boomers are on Medicare, is IN.”
I was bluffing, of course. Old has never been IN anyplace other than China where reverence for the elderly is genetically programmed into their DNA before birth. But it did occur to me that I have reached an age where I’ve learned a few things that might be helpful to others.
For example, I could tell aspiring English majors that it’s OK if they don’t find Shakespeare’s comedies funny. His tragedies are unsurpassed, and his love sonnets are among the most beautiful in the English language, but Will would have been fired from a 1980s sit-com writing staff in my opinion.
There. I’ve said it, I’ve committed literary heresy.
If, however, you find yourself in a situation where you must sit through one of his comedies, it is politic to laugh. Guffaw and pretend that you believe the boy believes the girl is a boy, and the girl believes that the boy is a girl, and the other girl believes they’re both boys, and they believe she is a boy. Otherwise, people will think you are too dumb to be an English major.
That’s another advantage of being older. You realize that you’re not as dumb as you thought you were.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent most of my adult life wandering through a forest of very tall trees without a map, not exactly lost, but unsure of my way through. I assumed other people had the map. Now, I’m not so sure they did. I think they may often have felt dumb, too. Regardless, the route I’ve wandered has worked out well enough for me even if it was not the same as others took.
But I’m also not as smart as I once thought I was either, and I apologize to those who had to put up with me in my arrogant youth when I assumed all knowledge (any worth having at least) was within my grasp. I’m certainly not as smart as many of my Facebook friends who have confident answers for all the world’s problems. Every day, I learn something I didn’t know about something else. I realize now that the Earth and the people who inhabit it are more complex than I had dared imagine.
I have learned that drug store skin products are as good as the expensive department store brands if you don’t object to cheap containers that break. And it’s easier to be kind to everybody than it is to be selectively nice only to people you think might further your own interests.
You’ll be happier if you surround yourself with flowers – or whatever you find beautiful. And contrary to bumper-sticker philosophy, at the end of life, I suspect most of us will wish we had spent just a little more time cleaning out our closets.
It sounds trite to say be grateful for what you have, but trite gets that way because it’s grounded in truth. Our “haves” will differ from another’s, and even within our own lives as time passes. This spring, I’m thankful to have my husband restored to good health after a life threatening illness this winter.
Get as much formal education as within your grasp. A flabby mind is no more attractive than a flabby body. I know a few notable exceptions, but it’s easier to do this when you’re young, before you marry or begin a family. On the other hand, it’s never too late to begin.
Life will be easier if you can find something to work at that people will pay you to do. And while I believe in dreaming big, few of us are really cut out to be international diplomats despite the proliferation of college degrees in that field.
Let me encourage you to give religion a chance – or at least a break. Non-belief is all the rage now – though proselytizing, organized atheists seem an oxymoron to me. I admit that these sex scandals and random bigoted rants have shaken me, but over a lifetime, I’ve found far more good people in churches and synagogues than bad ones. In my experience it’s usually church folk who show up to help out wherever trouble strikes. This I know - faith has pulled my heart to a more loving, more generous and forgiving place.
Finally, I think that most of us end up accomplishing in life whatever is most important to us – whether we understand that is what we are doing or not. For me, I realize, that has been creating a family. As an only child, I grew up in a loving home, but always longed for a bigger crowd around the table. Ours overflows now with six grandchildren, three daughters and as many sons-in-law. They’re not a perfect crew, but they’re about as good as you’ll run across.
So mock me if you will, Birthday boy. As soon as I dust myself off, I’ll catch up with you tomorrow. It’ll be fun racing with you to next year. You may be surprised, though, at all I have planned. After all, Hillary Clinton is about my age, and she’s running for president.