I hadn’t intended to write more about getting old, at least not soon, after I had finished the first part of this journal. Down the road a bit, yes, but not soon. However, while contemplating it during a walk under dark cloudy skies in rain-threatened San Diego, I realized I could not let it stand alone. I wrote it to express my very real inner fear, but that is not all there is to the subject. In fact, there is more positive than negative in growing old. Many of the things I alluded to in my previous article are surface manifestations: deteriorating body and appearance, and so on. But there is much more to aging than that. With this epiphany, let us turn to some of the great benefits of aging.
First of all, I can see my progeny grow up to maturity. Those who don’t have kids can’t really relate to this, I suppose, but perhaps at least vicariously you can. Even if you don’t have your own offspring you probably have seen nephews or nieces, cousins, younger brothers or sisters, or children of friends blossom from babyhood to adolescence and beyond. My ex-wife and I loved those years when the kids were young and we had to dive in and give our all full time, working to support them, cleaning, cooking, educating, salving their hurts both physical and psychological, entertaining, awakening them to the wonders of the universe. Sometimes it exhausted us, but always it fulfilled us. But now – now we can see the fruits of our labors. Now we see them growing up into fine, strong, intelligent men, each with his own unique personalities and goals and perspectives. We are astonished at what we have wrought. We didn’t create them, of course, any more than the gardener creates that which grew forth from the seed planted, but we invested everything we had: our health, our time, our finances, our own hopes and dreams. We put everything else aside, forsook everything but what was best for the kids – we continue to do so in fact, but it was even more blatant back then when they were young. And now, as we are aging, we see the payoff, which is magnificent far beyond anything we could have hoped.
It’s even better than all that, though. Not only are my sons growing up and going off, strong and confident, on their own, but they have turned around and helped me when I have needed it, with their finances, physical strength, and moral support. They are my greatest fans, most intimate confidantes, and closest friends.
Another great benefit of growing old is that I am a much better writer than when I was young. In my youth I had the crazy desire that set me off on adventure road, but I did not have the knowledge to make use of the raw material I harvested along the way. Now I make use of that which constitutes my life, the past, present, and speculation about the future, in stories, novels, essays, memoirs, and so on in ways that I never could in the past. True, I am not well-known and I don’t make a lot of money at it; nevertheless, it is good work and I have hopes that it will someday be recognized as such. In the meantime I have confidence that I can continue to produce more good work, and I will do so.
You’ve heard about the wisdom of the aged? Well, there is some truth to that. Don’t get me wrong; not all old people are wise. If you never look for something it’s doubtful you are going to find it. But I have sought wisdom all my life. I am not only a voracious reader, but I am very careful and selective in what I read. I try to choose books, whether fiction or nonfiction, that will not only entertain me but enrich me in some way. Books are like food for the mind, heart, and spirit. I crave that which will feed me, nourish me, strengthen me. Not everything I have read in the past has had that effect, but I have the accumulation of a lifetime of reading stored up, as well as an ever-inquiring mind that seeks to turn raw knowledge into wisdom. Mine is not a flawless mental machine, but it has been running a long time and has had a chance, in all those years, to formulate at least a modicum of insight.
I have a lot of experience under my belt. Experience is like raw knowledge; it doesn’t translate into positive wisdom and insight unless the right connections are made. Nevertheless, without experience you are like a vehicle without fuel; you won’t be going anywhere. I have gone a lot of places. I have traveled extensively on four continents. Besides the United States, where I was born and raised, I have lived in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand, Italy, and Greece. I lived abroad for thirty-five years, and have the perspective of all those cultures. I have loved many women, and many women have loved me. I alluded to this in the previous essay, and have written of it in my memoirs. One thing I would not want back again is the feeling of insecurity I felt around women when I was young. Due to my responsibilities I may not often have opportunities to strike up liaisons with potential partners, but it is not due to timidity or uncertainty.
Which brings up another internal strength that has increased with age: confidence. I’m not saying I don’t quake a bit inside when confronted with a job interview or a woman I would like to approach, but it is not the same as before. I have confidence in who I am, in my inherent talents. If they don’t like it they can go… Okay, we won’t complete that thought. Not to say things always go well. This world is a minefield of disasters waiting to happen, and very often things do not go my way. When I was young, disappointments would shatter me. Now, they might depress me, discourage me, slow me down, but I have the confidence to realize it is not always my fault. It is what it is, and even exemplary, spot-on, first class square pegs still don’t fit into round holes.
I have more courage now than when I was young. Granted, it took a hell of a lot of courage to take off on the road and travel around the world as I did so long ago, but I speak now of a different kind of courage. It is a courage born of a knowledge of what is right and what is not, of a realization that many in authority don’t deserve to be there, of a sense of destiny and mortality. I will not live forever, and it makes no sense to turn myself into a pathetic, whining, cringing wimp in an effort to prolong my days. It makes much more sense to live each day to the full as long as they last. Any day might be a good day to die.
I have power that I didn’t have when I was young, but it is a power born of pain. Unless you are willing to go through the pain you have no idea what I am talking about. I have felt great pain, both physical and psychological, and it has knocked me for a loop sometimes, but inevitably in the end it has made me stronger. Everyone makes mistakes, everyone fails, everyone falls down and thinks that this is the time they can’t get up again. But if you set your sights on doing not what is convenient but what is right, you will recover from your injuries and become a stronger, wiser person.
Yes, reader, I did you a disservice before in expressing the negative first. But perhaps it had to come out. It was like a boil that had to burst before the wound could heal. When all the puss was cleared out I was able to focus on all the wonderful, life-affirming, strengthening, positive aspects of aging. I’m going to close again with the quote from Thoreau’s “Walden” that I used at the end of my memoir “America Redux” – a memoir, I might add, that was born out of much pain and uncertainty but that nevertheless is triumphant in its conclusion: “There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.”
I’m a professional writer; I make my living by my words. I’m happy to share these essays with you, but at the same time, financial support makes the words possible. If you’d like to become a patron of the arts and support my work, buy a few of my available books or available stories. Thanks!