Thoughts on turning 65

It’s not easy getting old. I just turned sixty-five, passing up the Beatles’ questions about turning 64, signing up for Social Security and Medicare, and long past receiving my AARP card in the mail. Having grown up with the anthem “Forever Young,” I’m surprised, confounded really, to see my waistline expand, my chin drop, my joints stiffen, my brain a bit more foggy. Leonard Cohen’s line, “I hurt in places that I used to play,” a reality no amount of cardio or stretching alleviates. Of course, it beats the alternative, but it still isn’t easy.
I remember when I was a kid having someone, maybe a preacher, talk about getting old: rub Vaseline on your glasses, put pebbles in your shoes, and stuff cotton balls in your ears. It’s not far from the truth. Growing up, I heard older people talk about how quickly the time goes. I remember my grandmother observing that she would sometimes pass by her reflection in a mirror and be startled at who was looking back. I remember thinking how important it was to be in touch with the passage of time, so I wouldn’t be shocked by its passing. I’ve tried but it’s still shocking.
As difficult as coming to terms with one’s own evolution is, it’s hard watching those you care for suffer age-related trials. I recently had to have “the talk” with my 88-year-old mother about ending her driving career. I had known this was on the horizon, delaying as long as possible, hoping that my delaying the confrontation wouldn’t result in tragedy.
The day came after having had to declare her a missing person and being called by the Rancho Palos Verdes police at 1:30 in the morning. On her drive home from church, she had missed her freeway off-ramps, and continued driving for eleven hours, ending up 70 miles from home. She has no real memory of that lapse, but luckily didn’t put up a fight when I said it was time to relinquish her keys. We now wait for a sign that it is time for her to move from her home so she might have more stimulation, more care, more oversight. I talk of it, trying to put a positive spin on the eventuality, but seeing her fright, her irritation, her disbelief that these age related predicaments have now befallen her, it’s a hard sell for us both.
Of course, it’s not all bad. I never would have thought I would have had fulfilling work after my teaching career ended. I would have never been in a financial position to have risked opening a business. It was more than rewarding, being enriched by a community of artists and collectors, stimulated by new ideas and new acquaintances. Nor would I ever have thought I would have any of my thought pieces published by a paper, assuming that my only journalistic experience would have come from teaching journalism and newspaper production many, many years ago. My biggest lesson might be that surprising events can happen even after retirement, after we are no longer looking for or expecting new diversions or avocations.
As a teacher I was all about preparation: being ready for what the day might bring, being qualified to meet fresh opportunities, teaching what my students might likely need to know in order to meet their next challenge. What life after my involvement with education ended has taught me is sometimes we are so busy “preparing” that we miss seeing opportunity. Living in the moment, being “woke” if you will, can sometimes bring sweeter rewards than a lifetime of homework.

Steve Harrison


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