Thursday, May 14, 2009
When I got up today, my shoulders ached. Too much playing on the playground with my second graders. When I swung my legs over and got out of bed my joints popped and I staggered into the bathroom. Who was that guy in the mirror? I know, I know, you’re only as old as you feel. But I was feeling old.
This is my thirtieth year as a teacher. That makes me 51 (Yikes! Almost 52). You could only call me middle-aged if I live to be 102. Not going to happen. But it’s all relative, right? My dad’s dad lived to be 94 or 95. He was a practicing dentist until he was in his 90’s. I’m sure that my sons – 15 and 17 – can’t imagine being 51. When I was their age I couldn’t imagine it either.
One of my students was going on today about how quickly this school year has gone by. I gave her my philosophy about how quickly time flies. When you are 7 (as she is) a year is 1/7 of all of the time you have experienced. I drew a pie graph divided into 7 parts and shaded in a section. It was a big piece of pie. “But when you are 51, one year is a tiny slice of pie, just a small part of the time you have experienced so it feels little compared to your life.” I drew a circle with 51 sections and filled in one.
“Wow, you’re right, Mr. O… that is one TINY piece of pie!” And so it is.
Being this old has its advantages and disadvantages. The obvious advantage is… it beats the alternative. But being this old gives me some perspective. When I was born the Russian space satellite SPUTNIK was put into orbit. Now there is so much space debris up there that it’s dangerous. Personal computers were unimaginable. As were cell phones, ATM’s, calculators (we still used slide rules when I was in high school), microwave ovens, cable TV, digital cameras, GPS systems, CD’s, MP3’s, DVD’s, etc. All of this stuff was not even fair game for our science fiction writers. Consider STAR TREK of the 60’s. They had communicators (think “Beam me up, Scotty!”), but they were sorry compared to the text-message-internet-access-GPS-system-camera-video-phones of today. Being this old has allowed me to see the changes in our technology and the corresponding changes in society. I know that whatever is here today is only temporary. The disadvantage is that, in some areas, it’s hard to keep up.
When I was a kid (I’m thinking my sons’ ages) I thought my folks’ music was so boring and outdated. How could they still listen to that? My mom with her show tunes and Sinatra and Perry Como and Andy Williams. I would always be into what was current. I’d never be stuck listening to music of a bygone era. And I’m not. Whenever James Taylor comes out with a new album I get it. Or Jackson Brown or Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, or Carly Simon or Dan Fogelberg (oh no, he died) or John Denver (oh yeah, he died too). And the truth is, I get misty when I hear a song from Fiddler or Music Man.
I used to be a runner. Not serious like a lot of folks who read running magazines and buy running clothes that wick away your moisture. And not competitive like those who train for marathons. I just ran because it felt good. I was up to about 5 miles 3 or 4 times a week. But then first one knee went out (thank goodness for arthroscopic surgery) and then the other. Now Heidi and I walk for exercise. My brother Dan said that’s old people’s exercise. Of course that was before he had to stop running and stick with yoga. But I walk with Heidi and we talk about our respective days and take in the beautiful seasons. Sometimes we catch a sunset down at the dock. The dog comes along and to go on her sniffing expedition. We have a spot or two where we stop and kiss. It’s nice.
I was born during the Eisenhower administration. I was seven when The Civil Rights Act passed. When I was a kid, African Americans had a hard time voting in the Old South and Jim Crow Laws were common separating Blacks and Whites. There were race riots because of bussing in the North. Ruby Bridges still hadn’t braved the angry mobs in New Orleans, the Freedom Riders still hadn’t made their trek and both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court were comprised of white men. Now that I am 51 we have a Black President of the United States of America. And he won with a mandate. And my second grade, public school classroom is as sweetly integrated as you can imagine. Not that the US still doesn’t have race issues, but look how much we have developed in these 51 years. And being 51, I have been aware enough (most of the time) to bear witness to this miraculous change. Not a bad deal.
I have seen my brothers and sisters get older too. At my nephew Jack’s Bar Mitzvah a few weeks ago, most of us were there. Along with lots of wonderful nieces and nephews and my mom and step-dad. My nephew Tim, turning 40 this fall, is an attorney. The finest kind. He is an advocate for those in prison who need his translating skill – and his compassion. Being 51, and just 11 when he was born, I have had the privilege of watching him grow up and become himself. It’s true for all of the young ones in my life.
Heidi and I were pretty late in having kids ourselves. I was 34 when Devin was born, 36 for Colin. I wasn’t so old that we couldn’t play hard and wrestle and run and fish and do the stuff that you should do with your little ones. How lucky was I that both my boys went to school with me from Kindergarten through grade 5; had my best friends as their teachers? Then we commuted across town together until they were both in high school.
When they were little guys, I would carry them, still asleep, into the car each morning and buckle them in. We had car pillows and blankets. They woke up when we got to school and brushed their teeth and had cereal in my classroom. When it was time to go to class they both hugged me good-bye and told me they loved me. I could smell the cereal on their breath.
In the car on the way home we would talk about our days, tell silly stories and sing songs. Later we would listen to books on tape. I got to spend nearly two hours a day confined to the car with them. I watched them from afar in the lunchroom and in our school gatherings. If I weren’t this old, I wouldn’t have those memories and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I do miss those little boys who would still cry from a skinned knee or hurt feelings, who still needed help opening jars, putting a worm on a hook and doing their homework. But I love the men they have become. I’m really fortunate to have those memories.
I guess the finest thing about being 51 is all of the years I spent with Heidi. Our love is different than when we first fell in love (at 19). It is softer. Gentler. She has some gray and some tiny wrinkles around her eyes (she was a sun worshipper from the 70’s) but she is so much more beautiful than when we first met. Her beauty is a light that shines for anyone who knows her well. Over these years she has gotten kinder, more concerned about social justice, more compassionate. Deeper. I like to think that some of her light has become a part of me. So much of any goodness in me I attribute to her. She has been and will always be my best friend.
Being this old means that I have spent over 32 years being in love with this wonderful woman.
Being 51 isn’t so bad.