Thoughts on Getting Old(er)

I had a birthday recently. There are times of the year when we all think about time passing, New Year’s Day, the beginning of a new calendar year, is one. The changing of the seasons. Birthdays, as much because there is a number attached to it as anything else.

I certainly didn’t feel any older the day following the birthday, but I knew I was older. Perhaps the most pressing question, and the most chilling, is this: how many more birthdays will there be?

When young, I never thought about this at all. Life seemed to stretch before me, full of endless possibility. As a child there was only family, school, play, books and friends. A birthday meant presents and celebration. What could be better?

In college, life stretched ahead, perhaps slightly better defined: I’d have a career, a nice house, have stuff I wanted, as long as I could afford it. Years went by, work became a larger part of my life. With advancement came responsibility and pressure. The hours got longer, the joy of work diminished, the idea of retirement began sound awfully good. Ah, retirement; summer vacation without September. Still, I never thought much about my age, except once a year, on my birthday.

Everyone knows life is finite. Around the time I turned 55, it occurred to me that I was further towards the end than the beginning.  That was about the time the question “how many more birthdays will there be?” first entered my thoughts. The answer, 20? 25? 30 if I’m lucky? It came as a shock. Sure, maybe I’d live another 40 years, to 95, but if so, what would the quality of life be? I doubt I’d be happy to be alive.

Now nearly a decade past that double-nickel birthday, it’s not a pleasant experience to contemplate the time remaining. The years seem more precious, the time in each of them something not to be wasted.  I don’t consider myself a hedonist, but I do lean towards doing the things I enjoy most over the things I don’t like to do.

Which brings me to books, and music and hobbies (and my home and a host of other things, which I won’t write about here). I wonder if I’ll have time to read all the books I want to read, hear all the music I want to hear, watch the films, do the painting, sketching, designing, writing, photographing and learning I hope to do.

The books, especially, seem to be a problem. I haven’t read all the ones I have, by a long shot, and yet additional books find their way into the house, a house already stuffed with them. I’m a reader, it’s what I do. I read every day. When I look at the stacks of unread books it seems  as if they challenge me. When will you read ME? they seem to whisper. There’s a pressure there, sometimes very, very slight, at other times so palpable the hairs on my arms prickle from it.

Exerting less influence but there nevertheless are the magazines, They pile up – especially the weekly news magazines – while I’m looking the other way and suddenly there’s a stack of them six inches tall: Time, Sunset, Wired, Macworld, Automobile, Quilting, California Gardner, a half dozen others.

Paper and ink, everywhere, unread, whispering… “Read me.”

The music: there are the symphonies, and concertos, the chamber music, all the classical music that’s in hand and yet to be discovered. Sure, it’s easy to hear a 30 or 40 minute piece. But I want to listen to it, get to know it, understand it. That takes time, time I have less of with every birthday.

There are things I’ve wanted to do since I graduated from college. There are things I always said I’d do when I retired. Will I ever do them? I wonder.

Time spent is irrevocable. I can’t go back and try again, do it better. It’s around my birthday that I realize I have to make every minute count, appreciate the time I have, now while I have it.

Talk about pressure.

About Richard Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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12 Responses to Thoughts on Getting Old(er)

  1. Bill Crider says:

    In a couple of weeks I’ll be speaking at a memorial service for one of my high school classmates. So you can bet I’m thinking about the same things, Rick.

  2. Patti Abbott says:

    This is timely for me as I stare down 62 on January 1. I am only one age each year. I’ve always found that annoying.

  3. Evan Lewis says:

    My wake-up brush with mortality came a few years ago with the death of Lance Casebeer. I had known people who died, of course, but this was the first death of a friend. To see his incredible book collection broken up and sold piecemeal was excruciating, and pains me to this day. Since then, my own book buying has trickled almost to nothing. I have nightmares about strangers picking through my books at a garage sale after I’m gone.

  4. Richard says:

    I have some friends who have passed away (my chosen euphemism), it’s never easy, and when they are younger than I, even more difficult.

    I’ve lived more years than my father did. When I reached that age it had quite an impact on me.

  5. Jeff Meyerson says:

    All the more reason to do the things you want to do now! That’s my theory. No more waiting for “someday” which may never come.

    As long as we have our health and can afford it, we’re going to do the things we want to do, like going to Jazzfest every year.

    Time may be getting shorter but in this economy, surprisingly enough we’re in a position to do it so we are.

  6. David says:

    Ten good years since I retired and I’m taking it now a day at a time, hoping they’ll add up to a few more good years. After my 25th, didn’t pay much attention to birthdays until my 62nd and then my 65th. Hope you have many more!

  7. Richard says:

    David – thanks, same for you. This one wasn’t one of those round numbers, but for some reason it really made me think about my mortality.

  8. Richard says:

    Jeff -Yep, yours is a good philosophy.

  9. George Kelley says:

    I’m a believer in the Jeff Meyerson Philosophy: DO IT NOW!

  10. Richard says:

    The problem is, George, I can’t do everything at once, so priorities have to be established. Read a short story in that collection I’m working on, or listen to that new CD of symphonies, or clean the house, or watch the movie that just came from Netflix, or…?

  11. Time passing comes under the heading (for me) of things we don’t need to stress over – like, why open the bills that come in the mail on Friday and just because the phone is ringing doesn’t mean you have to answer it.

    I don’t celebrate my birthday and resent being reminded of it. Don’t celebrate New Years as I don’t drink and find banging on pots and pans out in the street at midnight just doesn’t do it for me anymore.

    Finally: Kurzweil predicts effective immortality by 2045 and I figure I can hang on till them.

  12. Richard says:

    We are of similar but not the same mind on this one. I do celebrate the new year, not by banging on pats and pans but by trying to renew my sense of self and vow to do better. That usually lasts a few days. Unless I’m expecting a call, I don’t feel compelled to answer the phone when it rings: half the time it’s some yahoo trying to sell me something anyway (I have a land line). Whomever it is can leave a message. I’m not so stressed over the passage of time as the amount of it left.

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