COMING OF AGE...AT 68
...freed slaves before
dying at age 56
...wrote 'Hamlet' and all that other stuff before dying at 56
CHARLES M. McFADDEN
...wrote this column,
but he's already 68.
REQUIRED LEGAL NOTICE
Attorneys representing Mr. Charles M. McFadden have requested that we acknowledge the photo and drawing of Mr. McFadden used with this column
have been aged artificially by computer enhancement of the original images.
We also wish to state that Mr. McFadden looks young and vital and does not
use any kind of chemicals to maintain his sexual potency, which is known
to be prodigious, according to his legal staff.
How old do you have to get
before you're really 'old'?
By CHUCK McFADDEN
When you were a youngster, how old did you think you had to be before you were Old? I thought that middle age started at 35 and lasted until you were 65, after which you were officially and irretrievably old. Time to hang up any thoughts you might have entertained about becoming famous, or really, really rich. And by the way, having an affair with the Countess d Ambrosia that sweeps from London to Paris to Rome is now out of the question.
Well, I turned 68 the other day, and its not so bad, really. My youngest son snickers when I refer to myself as middle aged, but I comfort myself that 70 is the new 50. I read that somewhere. I dont remember where.
Closing in on the big Seven-Oh gives one pause. After all, when one is 70, one really is, well, elderly. I may take comfort in the fact that there are lots of guys running around being senators and supreme court justices and leaders of Chinese communism who are in their 70s or even their 80s, but still .
If Im ever in need of an instant bout of depression, I can haul out a five-dollar bill and look at it. I am now 12 years older than that fellow with the bearded, craggy face. Abraham Lincoln--Old Abe--only lived to be 56. And look at Shakespeare. He became the greatest writer the English language has ever produced, and did it all before dying at age 56. And what have you done, I ask myself. A couple thousand news stories, all of them now forgotten. Slacker.
(Of course, Adolph Hitler only lived to be 56. Maybe being a slacker isnt so bad after all.)
One of the things that happens as you build up the years is that you take an increased interest in the past. I have become a history buff, and Im on my way to becoming a grade-C expert on the Second World War. I love to look at coffee-table books on WWII military airplanes. I think theyre sleek and deadly and beautiful. (The airplanes, not the books.) So is a Model-T, my young friends would scornfully point out to me.
You also develop a tiresome habit of repeating something that you think is profound, or funny. Over and over again. Sometimes to the same people. Most of them have been pretty patient. Well, so far they have.
It is sobering to realize that in the year you were born, World War II hadnt started. There was no atomic bomb. Cars had running boards and Chevrolet was bragging about the fact that its cars were built with steel tops. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was only in his second term. Mussolini and Hitler and Stalin were the people Time magazine was writing about. Few people had heard of an obscure Army officer named Dwight Eisenhower. And you stretch from that time to the present. A long time, my friend, a long, long time.
You find some good things happening. You grow more tolerant of other peoples foibles. Oh, theyre still idiotic, of course, but what the heck. Takes all types. You also begin to take a longer-range view of things. You finally begin to realize that many of the ills that afflict the world are not going to be eliminated in your lifetime. Thats a humbling discovery. You finally--well, in my case, finally--begin to realize that quite a number of geniuses over the past several millennia have produced some awfully good stuff to read, and look at, and listen to. Its a cornucopia of delights, all there waiting for you. Women are still beautiful, bless them.
Some things make you grouchier than they used to. In my own case, I have lately begun to develop increasing impatience for publicly dispensed buncombe and verbal flim-flam. I now read with disgust those full-page ads taken out by oil companies telling you how altruistic they are. And here I used to cover politics. Said grouchiness is not a contradiction to the statement above that you grow more tolerant of peoples foibles, by the way. Hate the sin, love the sinner. Somebody said that once. Cant remember who it was.
All of this is quite separate from the usual packet of things that afflict one in, um, late middle age: bewilderment at modern music; horror over the clothing worn by teenagers; the stupefying ignorance of anyone under 30; the whole of popular culture, as a matter of fact. Or at least 90 percent of it. Old Fart-ness does come to us all.
Im beginning to belatedly realize that as you add up lifes balance sheet in your more advanced years, the good things and the bad things, the trick is to enjoy the good things more and pay less attention to the bad things.
Scarcely an original thought, but I think Im going to try to remember it.
©2005 by Charles M. McFadden. The McFadden caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel. The Lincoln and Shakespeare illustrations are from IMSI's Master Clips Collection, 1895 Francisco Blvd. East, San Rafael, CA, 94901-5506, USA. This column first posted on Oct. 10, 2005.
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