I suddenly realized the other day that my birthday is coming up. Is it one of the signs of increasing age when a person forgets that? Remember the time when you breathlessly awaited the chance to party on your birthday? Well, now partying anytime leaves me breathless.
Just a couple of weeks before, I attended my brother’s 25th wedding anniversary. It was hard to believe. My brother is still a hippie, in all the ways that count, and do hippies really get old? I mean, he’s got the beard and the jeans and the laid back kind of attitude. I’m fairly sure he has, hidden away in his closet, tie-died shirts that he puts on while listening to Pink Floyd’s The Wall.
Sure, he’s got some white streaking that facial hair, and he’s usually fixing up the house while his stereo plays AC/DC, but it’s not like he’s old. So if he’s a year and a half older then me, how can I be old?
Yet a week before that I became a grandfather. How did this happen? My own grandmother’s still alive, for crying out loud! I have to tell you, when I held those babies I didn’t feel like a grandparent at all: In fact, I flashed back to being a father again. If you’re only as old as you feel, I lost a quarter of a century in that moment.
And yet, in real years, I’m going to be half way to – wait for it – 92 years. And I’ll still be on the job, trying to get my house paid for. It’s a good thing my workspace is wheelchair accessible, because there are some days when I barely get around even now.
My birthday this year falls on a Monday, which is the day Albion’s volunteer firefighters get together for meetings, trainings, and watching old episodes of Emergency. It will also be the 28th anniversary of my joining the fire department; if it was a full time job, I’d have retired and moved to southern Florida by now.
In fact, there are only two guys on the department who still have more seniority than me. I can’t quit, because they’re still going strong (in fact, they’re pulling away from me), and that would just be embarrassing. Still, I do sometimes wonder if all those years give me a few brownie points toward taking it easy a little. Probably not. Maybe I’ll just hold out for 30 years and try not to get myself killed, like always happens on crime movies to the cop who’s close to retirement.
Granted that I’m going to be working my full time job for at least another ten years – wait, let me check my bank account – twenty years, but maybe retiring from anything would be a sign of giving in to the advancing of time. What would be next? Wearing shorts with white knee high socks? Sitting around comparing medications? Complaining about how fast things are changing, and how young people today don’t have any respect? Becoming conservative?
Well, at least I don’t wear white knee socks.
Then there’s the question of what I still want to accomplish in life.
I used to have a very simple list: Get rich and famous as a novelist/actor/singer/producer, move into a mansion with two swimming pools along the California coast, travel to every country in the world, and have three beautiful female assistants who take care of my every need and are called “Mark’s Angels”. Then there’s the whole buying my way onto a Mars mission thing. I’d be okay with it launching from the island. Oh, did I forget to mention my private island?
Now I’ll be satisfied if I can just keep putting salt on my food.
Over the years, the list melted away. The singing thing was the first to go, as soon as I heard a recording of myself singing; I just couldn’t do that to people. I found out what producing really entails and lost interest in that, and acting won’t work because I’m not competitive enough – and because I don’t think I can pull off making casting agents think I really care about hemorrhoidal tissue.
Traveling? Some days I’m happy to make it out of the bedroom.
I maintain the dream of becoming a novelist – in fact, I still dream of doing it full time. However, when I discovered how much money the average novelist makes, I discarded the idea of having a mansion anywhere, let alone on the coast. A mobile home would be more financially feasible.
And the three beautiful female assistants? Ha! Even if I was still single, in that direction lays only lawsuits or exhaustion. Besides, would I want anyone loyal to me because of my wealth and power?
But age has led me to a discovery that would shock most young people: Money, in and of itself, is nothing. I could pick a thousand occupations that earn me more money, for less work, than writing, but they wouldn’t earn me happiness. What’s the point? To retire after twenty-five years with a bundle, only to realize you’d spent the best years of your life unhappily chasing the green?
Nah. If I, in my grizzled middle age, had anything to say to those just starting out it would be very simple: Chase long term happiness. I’m not talking about just saving for retirement – although boy, do I wish I had. I’m talking about doing the things that will make you happy not only today, but ten, thirty, and fifty years down the road. Don’t stand there, looking back at your life, and realize you dribbled away true satisfaction for either cheap thrills or selfish drudgery.
Not that it matters; young people aren’t going to listen to me. I’m over thirty.