Reflections on turning 75

Reflections on turning 75

June 24, 2022 0 By Rick

The former American statesman Bernard Baruch once said, “To me, old age is always 15 years older than I am.” With that in mind, I refuse to be pessimistic or depressed about aging. I’m going to continue to soldier on with my life and adventures and not call it a day until the fat lady sings or I hear the final long whistle! Maybe the fat lady sings and blows a whistle. I won’t know for sure until I get there (but I’m in no hurry). At any rate, right now I’m happier than a Kardashian taking selfies in a hall full of mirrors. In a way, turning 75 isn’t a big deal. It’s just an arbitrary mark on the calendar. But I felt I owed it to myself to stop and reflect on what it feels like to have enjoyed so much life, and on what a fantastic ride it’s been. Life for me, has never been about the “why,” but about the “why not?” My 75th birthday – my diamond jubilee – now makes me an elder. Once upon a time, elders were valued for their knowledge, wisdom and life experience. Before the printing press, they were the only source of transmitted history (orally). Some cultures that still value and respect the elderly say that when an elder dies, an entire library closes. I like that. And when it comes to death – the journey that we all must take -the Egyptians believed that you die twice. Once when you take your final breath, and once again the last time someone says your name. They believe your spirit lives on as long as people keep remembering you and saying your name. Oops, I digressed. Enough about death. Now where was I? Oh yes, reflecting on turning 75 and reviewing my life.

Ride the lightning, feel the thunder
My life has been a wild ride right from the beginning. My parents told me when I was young that I was born on the wild side. And they were right. Even as a kid, I felt like I wanted to fly on wings of fire, ride the lightning and feel the thunder. It’s been so intense that at some points the darkness has nearly pulled me under. I developed habits I couldn’t kick: an unquenchable thirst for adventure, the unknown, danger and challenges. I’ve always been attracted to the darkest light. I’ve lived life with one hand in the flames and the other trying to retain some semblance of a normal life. I was driven to ride into that dark night, but always remembered that I had to see the sunrise the next day. I’ve howled at the moon, been lost and rambled in the wilderness with my mind on the loose and my heart on the edge. There were times when the days were blurred by booze and “green,” and days when I couldn’t see the difference between. If it was exciting, crazy, dangerous and sometimes just plain old stupid, I had to try it. My body has paid the price for this lifestyle: 24 operations, 6 broken bones, 4 broken noses and 4 or 5 concussions (can’t really remember for some reason) – so far! And then there’re the “unseen injuries” that have piled up during the years.

Kept my head up
Times have been tough, and I‘ve been hurt. I’ve been bloodied, muddied and brought to my knees, but I’ve managed to hang in there (so far). Lonely shadows have followed me, and at times, it felt as if the devil was on my shoulder. He was, of course, because he got me to sell my soul to the god of adventure (which I don’t regret). I lived and learned that I could be my own worst enemy and that in my weakness I am strong. I learned that life is like water and that water gets rough. You can drown beneath the surface, so you’ve got to keep your head up. And I’ve kept my head up. I’ve done my best to live a good life and contribute to the greater good. I’ve fallen a thousand times and failed even more times but always managed to get up again. Sometimes by myself but most often with the help of others. More than anything, I’ve learned that everybody needs someone beside them. To become a survivor, you must understand that there’re some lessons you can only learn in a storm. I’ve become friends with the voices in my head and learned that it’s OK to be a mess sometimes. Just don’t let these periods define you.  I’ve learned to trust that the universe will take me home when I’ve done my “shift” and my time is up. My personal view of death is that it’s the greatest adventure of all. That’s why it’s saved for last. But that’s not happening any time soon, I hope, as I still have some “lesser” adventures to undertake.

Three-quarters of a century
Turning 75 made me realize that I’ve been on this earth for a long time – three-quarters of a century, to be exact. That’s 75 revolutions around the sun, nearly 900 months, 3,911 weeks and 27,394 days. The more time goes by, the more I realize what extraordinary experiences I have had in my 75 years. Just by staying alive, I’ve witnessed a lot of life and a lot of history. I’ve done so many things in these seven and a half decades and accumulated so many memories that it’s difficult to recall them all. I can safely say I’ve witnessed and survived some serious shit. My great-grandfather lived a long life (+90). So long that he witnessed the first flight of man and the first human setting foot on the moon in his life. I remember wondering how he could digest all that. But a great deal has happened in my lifetime, too. I’ve gone from sitting on the floor with my parents listening to a gigantic radio at night for entertainment to our first black and white TV in 1953 or 54 to color TV, cable and satellite TV, to streaming and YouTube. And there’s more.

A bit of personal history
I remember running up to our friendly neighborhood police officer who knew us by name and always had time to stop and play with us. Now, police officers are feared and hated by some. I’ve seen polio and other diseases eradicated only to see new ones emerge. Sadly, I remember when schools were safe places and the very idea of deranged individuals committing mass murders there was inconceivable. I remember when people could have different political views and still be friends. I remember being devastated when the Soviet Union beat the US to the punch in the space race with Sputnik (the first man-made satellite), then “Muttnik” (a dog in earth orbit) and finally Yuri Gagarin (the first human to orbit the earth). But we beat them to the moon. Revenge is sweet. I’ve also witnessed the disintegration of the Soviet Union and 9/11, two events I never thought possible. I’ve seen many wars and conflicts come and go: Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, First Gulf War, Afghanistan, Iraq, the “War on Terror” and now a war in Europe (Russia-Ukraine), something I never thought would happen again! I’ve witnessed the power of the world’s first computer that once occupied an entire large room shrink to the size of a smartphone. I’ve watched gas-guzzling muscle cars be slowly overtaken by electric cars and driverless cars. I’ve watched 8-track players and cassettes go the way of dinosaurs.

A different life
I compare what my children and grandchildren play with, especially in the electronics world, with what I played with as a child: wooden horses, tin soldiers and “make-believe” telephones made by connecting two paper cups with a long piece of string (never worked, but it was fun), wooden cars, balsa wood gliders, little red wagons, cards on the spokes of my bicycle wheel trying to make it sound like a motorcycle, knives, kites, etc. I can remember a different life when people spoke to each other face-to-face or picked up the phone and called one another. There was no such thing as texting. I remember registering for university the old-fashioned way, i.e., standing in long lines to tell a registrar what I wanted to study. And since there was no Internet, I can remember spending hours in the library tracking down books I desperately needed to read to complete my term papers and then typing them on typewriters, those ancient relics of the past. I can remember bicycling without protective gear, getting into fights without the fear of a knife or pistol being used, spending hours on a beach bodysurfing with no adult supervision, eating peanuts without fear, purchasing a dollar’s worth of gas, driving without seatbelts and buying a coke for five cents.

I sometimes yearn for the old days when life seemed much simpler but enjoy the present and everything comfortable it offers. Well, almost everything. Cash is rapidly disappearing in favor of Bitcoin, debit cards that blip, algorithms that predict what you want to see and smartphone apps that allow you to pay for things. Technology seems to be developing faster than I can keep track of. Just as I think I’ve mastered some new technology, it’s suddenly outdated and tossed into the trash bin of time. My children and grandchildren pick up new technologies faster than I ever could. I’ve become a new species – a “Technosaurus,” which is a sub-species of the “Digital Dinosaur” family. At least it feels that way. But wait, there’s more. Swipe right, swipe left, up, down or diagonally. I don’t get it. People seem to talk much more quietly or maybe they’re not talking at all – just texting. Print fonts appear to get smaller and smaller. Or maybe my arms are shrinking since I can’t seem to hold a book far enough away to read it. I continue to tell myself that I don’t need to write things down because I’ll remember them. Ask me how that’s working out for me. And yes, I talk to myself simply because sometimes I need expert advice. Perhaps I’m just a recovering “thinkaholic.”

Knowledge, wisdom and good judgment
Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put one in a fruit salad. Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from poor judgment. Over time, you acquire all three (hopefully). I’ve observed, however, that the young today tend to dislike and even resent unsolicited advice from their elders. It appears to me that today’s youth have their own “instant” solutions and remedies for life’s problems and don’t need the hard-won advice of a bald member of the “pig-passing-through-a-python” generation (the Boomers). They get all the information they need from today’s sages – the all-knowing “influencers.” Many of them disburse advice and information left and right despite still being in their 20s and early 30s. God help us. They tend to forget that the knowledge, wisdom and good judgment we’ve gathered through many decades of experience might be of use to them. Then again, maybe not. I believe it was noted French writer Francois de La Rochefoucauld who said, “Good advice is something a man gives when he’s too old to set a bad example!” And maybe he was right – maybe not.

Where did all the years go? 
It seems just yesterday that I was young, crazy and embarking on new adventures. Yet, in other ways, it seems like eons ago. It feels like one day I was a kid footloose, fancy-free and without a care, and the next, I was turning 75. One day I could run like the wind and the next, I needed a tailwind to run. My mind still barks out orders, but my body says, “seriously – not a chance?” At 75, there’re more years behind me to remember and fewer years ahead to anticipate, more experiences in my past and, probably (although I hope not), fewer experiences in my future. Turning 75 feels weird on the one hand and fantastic on the other. After all, 75-year-olds still head up countries (some very well and some very poorly), run marathons, triathlons and perform surgery. The good thing is that I now have just about everything that I wanted as a 15-year-old, only 60 years later. Time flies when you’re having fun. Where did all the years go? I know that I lived them all, yet the winter of my life has caught me by surprise. How did I get here so fast? Where did my youth go? I remember seeing older people through the years and feeling sorry for them. I just couldn’t imagine that I’d ever be that old. Yet here I am. But I’ve since come to realize that growing old is a privilege not afforded to everyone. And it definitely beats the alternative! Do I have regrets? You bet. There are things I wish I hadn’t done and things I wish I had done. But there are many, many things I’m happy to have done. It’s all in a lifetime.

Ponder this
I like to think that turning 75 is really turning 24 in Celsius. Life goes by quickly. So, do what you can today, as you can never be sure whether this is your “winter” or not! You have no guarantee that you will see all the seasons of your life. Savor today and say all the things that you want your loved ones to remember. And hope that they appreciate and love you for all the things that you have done for them in all the years past! And here’s another strange fact we should all consider. Today is the oldest I’ve ever been but at the same time also the youngest I’ll ever be. I like that. This is true every day, of course, but we seldom ponder it. Maybe we should. I’m going to enjoy the day. Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt said, “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste it, to experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” I’m going to continue doing that. In the end, the life in front of you is far more important than the life behind you, so I can’t wait to see what surprises the coming years will bring. I intend to die “young” as late as possible and make sure I’m “alive” when I die. And now, it’s time to hit the gym, go for a run and celebrate the day I turn 75 with a tandem parachute jump. Remember what I wrote about knowledge and wisdom? Knowledge: I’ve jumped many, many times but it’s been more than 50 years since my last jump. Wisdom: I don’t trust myself to read my altimeter let alone find the ripcord.  Happy 75th Birthday to me! Hooyah! “You are what you believe you are!”