Saturday, November 10, 2012


Aging...the term can bring a smile to the palate of an oenophile when contemplating a fine Bordeaux or to the taste buds of a turophile when choosing a ripe Camembert.  Yet, to those of us who have happily escaped our teenage years, the word usually brings a fallen and furrowed brow while we contemplate goals met and unmet, places visited and not-yet-visited, and the one thing that we cannot give away nor escape from – our own mortality.  At the age of 66, I might have a relatively unique perspective on the issue of aging because I became a father for the first time at the age of 65.
The word, aging, connotes the passage of time and the concept of time remains a mystery to all – even to astrophysicists.  Although it can seem to move more slowly in some parts of the world than others, time passes everyone at the same speed the world over.   We can watch a clock and see the seconds, minutes and hours pass by mechanically; but, the meaning of time, in human terms, is not so easy to grasp.

Aging slowly gives birth to a paradox because its strongest and most sinister power is the authority that we, ourselves, surrender to it.  We tend to live by others' expectations of behavior  against the backdrop of age.  Of course, time, in the guise of old age, will eventually win.  Each of us will die as an individual; I cannot, for the life of me, understand why we would live otherwise.

Several years ago, I watched as a married couple reached their early sixties and decided, consciously, that they should expect to weaken and to grow frail soon.  Within months, they were in and out of the hospital because one fell while walking and the other's organs began to fail.  They not only accepted old age, they invited it.

In October, 1971, a series of physics experiments demonstrated irrefutably that time is not an absolute constant.  Time is mutable; that is, it can be compressed or expanded – literally.  So, if we can conjure a complete work of fiction, compose stirring poetry, and  put into words the most complex and profound of human thoughts, surely we can control time with our attitude toward living and not according to the expectations of others.

When I turned 63-years-old, I returned to college as a full-time student.  When I turned 64-years-old, I happily participated in the conception of a baby girl.  And, at 65, I became my daughter's father.  At 66, whatever I decide to do, age will not deter me.  Someday, the infirmities of old age might, but age alone will not – cannot – intimidate me.  Ultimately, aging is the tuition that we pay for the lessons that life teaches us.

Time can be our enemy if we allow it to dictate when and how we live.  Some of us die long before our bodies surrender because we carry around with us others' expectations of our behavior relative to our age.  Others welcome old age as a time to marinate in memories instead of making new ones.  I may not agree with such decisions but I fought, in our military, for the freedom to make them.  Time can also be our friend while we wait nine months for the birth of our child, the ripening of a select Camembert, or the aging of a fine wine.    I wish for everyone the opportunity to live by your own clock and no one else's.

*This post was published, in a radio broadcast, on Thursday, 11/1/12, from two NPR stations near Salisbury, Maryland.