On aging

July 8, 2023

   I turned 74 on this most recent  European trip. I also became even more introspective, well, because I could, given the pleasant hours spent with little more to do than stare blankly into the fast moving French and Italian countryside rolling by me on a high speed train.

   In the final analysis, it occurred to me, as sheep-dotted hills slid past me, it might just not be about what you think you’ve accomplished with your life; it’s what you’ve been lucky enough to have experienced in the years bestowed upon you.

   “We elected President Obama in 2008 and reelected him in 2012. Then the entirety of American progress finally collapsed perhaps of its own weight in 2016.”

   I was seven years old when Don Larsen pitched the only perfect game in World Series history. I stayed up as a 12-year-old to see John F. Kennedy elected president. I read the headline “Spaceman Lands” in the New Orleans States-Item when Alan Shepard became our first astronaut.

   Then there were the assassinations: 6th period General Science as a high school freshman in November, 1963; a college sophomore in April, 1968, and then on my parents couch watching RFK’s acceptance speech after the California Democratic primary that June. Yeah, I know exactly where I was for all three. And, of course, there was – and is- 9/11, which remains a living memory, rather than a distant and still one.

   Nixon’s 1974 resignation and strangely 1978’s Animal House briefly restored my faith in the American Experiment. That was followed by Clinton-Lewinsky, which ended that fantasy. Fortunately, in 1996 Tiger Woods announced “Hello, world!” and a new national innocence of pure achievement and success introduced itself – for a while only, but still…what a grand ride that turned out to be.

   We elected President Obama in 2008 and reelected him in 2012. Then the entirety of American progress finally collapsed perhaps of its own weight in 2016. But, ah, the New Orleans Saints had won a Super Bowl by then, back in 2010!

   More importantly, I have experienced a marriage, divorce, widowhood and then a total gift of new happiness with Carol. My children are happy and successful. All that has happened externally in my 74 years.

   So, yes, what about me? Internally, I mean. That’s more elusive, but I think I can address it. I am a writer, and it’s taken me most of these 74 years to finally acknowledge it. Though conventional measures of writing success have eluded me, writing became and still is the way I engage this world, and even more so now in these later years, it is simply how I live and breathe.

   I am able to see how much better a writer I am now than I was when I seriously committed to the craft more than forty years ago. Craft is not art. Art is about discovery for and of its own sake. Craft is discovering by doing – over and over again until you’ve achieved something meaningful. It’s a trade, not a calling or a gift. But realizing what it means to be a writer is akin to art in the sense that, come some day, you suddenly discover you are doing it competently and confidently, not without effort, but with a naturalness that feels like ease, but is actually mastery. And that is its own true reward. And don’t forget to appreciate the good fortune of a life of health to do and experience it all along the way.

   In the end for me, turning 74 is only about having lived a complete, authentic life, and having made the best use of all the tools one could competently lay one’s hands on to accomplish it. That, and the fact in the final accounting, you’re both the best and the only judge of that result.

   Then there’s the continued feeling of wonder and satisfaction that comes when you stand back and see you are laying down sentence after sentence like a skilled carpenter framing a house, and you realize you have, after all, lived and aged well. You have, in fact, become a very good bottle of wine.

   Or is it Champagne?

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