By Bob Litton
Well now, after all that jabbering about retiring my blog (“this is my last post!”…“this is absolutely my last post!”), here I am again sending, as the Meg Ryan character, Kathleen Kelly, did in You’ve Got Mail, my cosmic message to the Void.
But perhaps I have a good excuse — at least temporarily. You see, today is the anniversary of my birth 74 years ago. So, why don’t I just term it my “birthday”?, some wannabe critics (“snarks”) might ask. We do, in fact, commonly say “birthday” year after year, but as a long-ago drinking buddy once explained to me, “You only have one birthday: all the rest are anniversaries.” That seemed so obvious to me after I heard his distinction, that I wondered why it had not occurred to me before.
Also, I have asked myself all week, Why do you want to celebrate it? Nobody is going to give you a party or even any presents. And cards? Pish! One! Our mayor even turned down my request for a parade of the ticker tape variety. However, I did get a donut at one café, a cinnamon roll at another, and a piece of pecan pie with vanilla ice cream at a restaurant — all gratis — after repeated hints. It was a bit like a Halloween trick-or-treating excursion.
But, seriously, why does anybody celebrate a “birthday”? Especially after the age of sixteen, when girls cease being jail bait; eighteen, when boys become eligible for the draft; twenty-one, when both genders can legally drink booze in my state. Are those milestones really worth celebrating? Stand-up comedian George Carlin (some of whose material I cannot stomach) did a masterful piece on the way people’s attitudes toward their advancing years change from childhood to old age. In a minute, I am going to give you URL’s to two websites — one a video of a live performance about aging by Carlin, and the other a beautiful photo slide show accompanied by comments from the same man; but first I want you to read the meditation on aging that I wrote back in December 1979, when I turned forty:
Just Between You and Me
By Monahans News Editor Bob Litton
End of the year, end of the decade, end of my youth. It’s all a bit too much.
Today’s my 40th birthday. Beginning my 41st year, as one of my sardonic friends would say. Some might interject I left youth a long time ago. The year 30 is the real transition point — 35, at the latest — they would say. But, youth is an attitude, not any particular span of years. Some of us manage to play legerdemain with that attitude longer than others.
Our first and shallowest conception of maturation is derived from physical changes. I had five gray hairs when I was fifteen years old. Consequently, I was able to pretend that each additional strand of white since then was just another of those premature gray hairs.
Wrinkles, too, are supposed to herald decline. Much of that problem has been spared me, I think, because I was born with an excess of baby fat. The experts, however, claim that men do not wrinkle as early or as harshly as women do because men shave every day, and the exercise of the cheek and chin muscles involved in shaving keeps the face in tone.
At this point I willingly relinquish such superficial qualities as unpeppered hair and smooth skin. The attribute of youth I really regret giving over is the sense of continual prospects. More than ten years ago, a philosophy professor warned me the day would come when my options would be severely circumscribed. “You’ll wake up one morning and realize you have hardened in the mold,” he said.
I’ve dreaded that day ever since he described it. Only it wasn’t a single day. The hardening took several months, but the total effect was just as momentous as if it had occurred in a single day. Suddenly, so to speak, one realizes his old freedom to break loose from unpleasant situations and try something new no longer can be credibly rationalized. Also, the time for training and preparing for some great — but conveniently vague — enterprise is over; the time to perform arrives. Finally, one feels an overwhelming longing to have a stake in society.
The change was most eloquently described in a poem titled “The Drunken Boat” by the French poet Arthur Rimbaud. In that poem, a barge on the Mississippi finds itself suddenly free to drift after its haulers are killed by Indians. The boat comes out onto the sea, enjoys a period of fantastic visions as it gets tossed about on the tumultuous waves, then becomes exhausted and longs for an existence tamer even than the one it had experienced under the bargemen’s dominion.
Now, of all the waters in the world, the barge yearns for a puddle in the street where a young boy sets the sail of a little boat “…as frail as a butterfly in May.”
— The Monahans News, December 29, 1979
Now I will invite Mr. Carlin onto the stage to entertain and enlighten us with his own thoughts on the aging process and our reactions to it:
And finally, here are Carlin’s more philosophically poignant comments about aging, presented in a written format along with some pleasing and relaxing nature photos:
Well, that’s it. I intend to publish this post a couple of hours before 7:40 p.m. Central Time here in the U.S. That is the time I was born on this day in 1939, according to my birth certificate (and we all know that birth certificates never lie). So, at that time (or its equivalent in your homeland), if you have any wine in your house, please raise a glass of it and say, “Happy birth anniversary, Bob, you old curmudgeon!” Then drink.