All birthdays have significance, some more than others. Big, round ones with a “0” at the end are always profound, but there’s an odd-numbered birthday that carries an inordinate amount of weight these days: 65.
I crossed the Rubicon last month, entering the never-never land of Medicare and senior citizen discounts. Nothing has changed down here in the weeds, but the view from 30,000 feet reveals the arc of my life is steadily curving over the horizon.
The formerly fearless mountaineer is living off of past memories. The erstwhile elk hunter has cut up his last wapiti. The ardent young lover has cooled off, the kids are almost out of the house, and the final season of life is beginning to unfold.
Now, more than ever, it’s clear that family is at the heart of a well-lived life.
Watching parents play with their kids in the park is a bit melancholic because, for me, those days are gone. It used to feel like they would go on forever, that I’d never be free to “ … do my own thing.”
Now I’m replaying those old movies in my head: the silly games of tag, pushing my kids on the swings, kicking a ball, horsing around, laughing.
My home — once a volcano of youthful energy and excitement — is growing quieter and quieter. The path forward has a lot of twists and turns, so the big challenge is plotting the best course.
Don’t trudge into the future, everyone says; the goal is to skip lightly by staying fit and active. I’m told it does wonders for one’s physical and mental health. So it’s off to the gym I go and, after a few weeks, I hit a good rhythm. Things go pretty well for a while, then my wrist starts hurting, or my knee, or my ankle — and I have to ease up on the throttle. In many ways, trying to stay fit as a geriatric is like owning a classic car: Not everything works as it should.
The math is pretty simple. You go to bed at night, and every morning you wake up one day older. Repeat the process 23,741 times and — presto! — you’re a senior citizen.
For those of us with lots of experience and diminishing physical abilities, an obvious application of our talents is in the realm of service. The old soccer player becomes a coach. The former gymnast becomes a gymnastics judge. The retired scientist becomes a tutor. As our shadows lengthen, we look for ways to enable, to nurture, to give back.
We volunteer in schools, nudging kids toward academic success. We volunteer in libraries, hospitals, and historical societies. We take a step back, offering support, so that others can take a step forward.
The wisdom of tribal elders has long been esteemed in human civilization, but it appears to be worth less and less in this age of shallow social media. What kid wants to switch off TikTok to listen while an old geezer drones on about how to paddle a canoe?
A perfection of means and a confusion of aims seems to be our main problem these days. All of us are uncertain of our place in the world and no one — no matter how poised and assured — has a winning formula for the game of life. Sometimes, it is the least poised and assured among us who possess the steadiest hands.
This is particularly true of the elders in our midst. The old guy fumbling with his checkbook at the cash register might have been a helicopter pilot in Vietnam; he might still be cool under pressure while others crumble around him. The old lady creeping across the street might have been a doctor who delivered a thousand babies in her career; she is still a deep well of wisdom and compassion. Don’t judge these books by their covers.
Shakespeare is always good to borrow from, so here is a phrase worth savoring: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts.”
Brock has been a Daily News columnist since 2002. He has lived on the Palouse even longer.