On Turning 70

I awoke this morning thinking about my seventieth birthday.  Being that my calendar, the one that keeps the events of one’s life filed chronologically, has been broken for some time now,  it’s difficult for me to know when most events happened in the past.  My wife often shakes her head in despair when I tell her something happened 10 years ago when it was actually 20 or vice-versa.  Time hasn’t ever really been a big factor in my life, kinda like sunsets and game shows.  I recognize the signs of time when I occasionally give my old body an inspection: for example,  the day, for some reason I don’t remember, I pulled my lips back to inspect my teeth.  I wasn’t more than 50 and I suddenly understood the meaning of “long in the tooth.”  Apparently, as we grow older, our gums recede making us...long in the tooth.

I guess the approaching birthday should make me reflective about my life, my past.  That doesn’t seem to be working for me.  Instead I keep feeling a little surprised that I’ve made it this far.  That reminds me of a subject which has been bothering me for some time: how the heck do young men ever get grown without doing irreparable damage to themselves or others.  In one of those New Age books that are supposed to reassure the modern man that he’s “okay,” there was one paragraph which had the ring of truth.  As I recall, a young man decides to go into a dismal and dangerous swamp in spite of the fact that the elders tell him that no one has ever returned from that bleak place.  The young man, ignoring the advice, sets off into the swamp accompanied by his dog.  When they get deep into the swamp, a hand reaches up out of the mire and snatches his dog into the abyss.  The young man’s reaction: “This must be the place.”

When we’re young, we seek danger and excitement...the place.  I recall in my youth doing exciting but foolish things.  Don’t expect me to recite these, for, unlike many Facebook people, I don’t share everything.  Suffice it to say that on many occasions you could have aptly put a fool’s cap upon my head, and it would have fit perfectly.

My behavior as a youth was mild in comparison to many of my contemporaries.  Most survived, some not; bless their hearts.

At some point we’re not so anxious to run into burning buildings, and at another point, no one else expects us to although we might.  I am not surprised by the old timers I see on television manhandling young punks who try to rob them or step in to to save others in spite of almost impossible odds.  I recall one video of an old timer taking down an armed bank robber holding him until the police arrived.  Oh yeah, his wife contributed with a couple of kicks to the midsection of the would be bank robber.  I was never one for taking abuse from people, but today I suspect that I would immediately surrender my valuables to a mugger and suggest he invest the funds wisely.  Who gives a good hoot?

At 70 a man is not at his peak ability physically or mentally.  Well, I was never a wondrous physical specimen to begin with, so I don’t miss that part of youth much.  As for the mental side, I suspect I began writing my essays just in time.  I guess the optimum age for a man is in his late twenties.  Usually by that point, one has survived the tremendously stupid physical acts.  However, he must then survive not so much the stupid physical acts but must survive his intellectually and morally stupid acts.  Intellectually I’ve done pretty well.  Morally, I’d judge that I’m borderline, not by today’s standards but by the standards of the time of my youth.

I think pursuing teaching in public education was my, “This must be the place,”  moment.  I never really considered my 35 years in education to be a career but rather a series of 35 rounds of hand-to-hand combat principally with administrators.  I won a few rounds, but lost most.  In the end, I feel as though I allowed myself to be pummeled without any particular purpose.  However, I have few regrets about the experience.  It helped fill the time until I could become a pensioner.  My goal was to live long enough to receive one pay day from the Texas Teacher Retirement System.  Mission accomplished.

As for the future, well, everything after 55 seems like an unearned bonus.  Don’t ask why 55: it’s my own personal magic number.  I say unearned because according to the American Medical Association, I’ve done just about everything wrong: I drank for years, I still smoke (For a while, I tried electronic cigarettes, not bad, but not exactly the real thing.), I eat whatever is on my plate with lots of salt, I like chocolate, and I don’t exercise.  The closest I’ve come to exercising was buying a motorized treadmill (You can’t expect me to do all the work.).  It now is a place to store paintings in my studio.

I could go down like a sack of potatoes tomorrow or, for that matter, even today.  Okay.  Linda would be fine.  Anyway, I’m kinda like that motorized treadmill: mostly used for storage now.

I suppose at 70, one should count one’s blessings.  I’m thankful for my wife Linda and everyone else who made my life bearable.  I’m thankful for reasonable health in spite of my wayward lifestyle.  I’m thankful for my Happy Days high school years.  I’m glad I’m an LSU tiger.  I’m even grateful for my time in the Army which I must admit was a bit of a waste for both the Army and me.  I’m glad for steady employment for thirty-five years.  I suppose there are other things I thank my lucky stars for, but enough is enough.

Sure, there are things for which I’m not grateful...they’re not worth my time.

Amazingly I actually know the best moment of my life.  It’s a simple moment that has never been repeated.  It occurred as I awoke in my concrete walled, ceilinged, and floored room in the East Stadium dorm at LSU.  I was probably 20 years old.  As the early morning sun slanted into the room,  the leaves  swirled   against the concrete four floors below in the Autumn air.  Life was never better than at that moment: more exciting, more fulfilling, but never better.

It would seem that as one turns 70, one should have words of wisdom for the younger generation.  I gave this subject considerable thought today, but all I could come up with was the following: it’s not wise to tell a large fellow to move his fat ass.  Use my words of wisdom as you wish. 


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