Monday, December 19, 2011

On Turning 70

"When I was One I had just begun.

When I was Two I was nearly new.

When I was Three I was hardly me.

When I was Four I was not much more.

When I was Five I was just alive.

But now I am Six I'm as clever as clever,

So I think I'll be six now for ever and ever."

- A.A. Milne, "Now We Are Six"

WHEN I was a child, my bedtime literature of choice was anything by A.A. Milne. I enjoyed the adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin but for reasons lost in the mists of memory, his "Now We Are Six" was my favorite.

I suspect I was impatient to reach that magical age, when you left babyhood behind and began to venture out into the world on voyages of discovery and adventure.

And being 6 was wonderful. It would be another five years before television made an appearance in our house so we spent our waking hours playing outdoors and building elaborate dream worlds. Without TV to render us physically and intellectually immobile, we traveled as far and wide as our imaginations would carry us.

Sure, there were skinned knees and hurt feelings from time to time but we were sheltered by our innocence from the harsh realities of life.

I mention all this because in one more week, I reach another milestone. I will be 70. I am frankly astounded. It doesn't seem that long ago that I was 6 and playing cowboys with the boy down the street. The important things in my life were bikes, baseball gloves and comic books.

I don't feel 70. Friends say I don't look 70. If they did, of course, they would no longer be my friends.

Come to think of it, however, I seem to have a lot more doctor appointments than I used to. I have lost a good 10 yards off my tee shot, gained a few inches around my waist and seemed to forget where I put my keys. So it must be true.

There are no books called "Now We Are 70" that romanticize the path that lies ahead, and no one to read them to you at bedtime. No one wants to remain 70 for ever and ever.

At this age, you try to live each day to its fullest and look back on the journey, trying to make some sense of it all.

On reflection, it's been a wonderful trip.

I was born 18 days after Pearl Harbor. I often wonder how my parents must have felt about bringing a child into a word engaged in a massive war. Were they worried? Were they scared? I never heard them speak of it. But they were made of stern stuff. My mother was abandoned in an orphanage at age 2. My dad never knew his real father. They were married just as the Depression hit.

My life wasn't nearly as tough. My world was living the lyrics of a Beach Boy's song. We surfed, hung out at Bob's Big Boy and took our girlfriends to proms. We were true to our school.

The worst thing that happened to me in high school was flunking out of geometry. Since it was mid-term, I had to find a course to finish out the year. I chose journalism. The rest is history.

Going to college was a slap in the face. I came to realize I had lived my life in a place that kept the rest of the world at arm's length. It wasn't until college that I made friends who were African American or Jewish or Hispanic.

I learned about injustice. I was exposed to cynicism, much of it directed at the middle class from which I came.

It made for a quick transition. Two years after I had been surfing in Newport Beach, I was arrested in a civil rights demonstration on Market Street in San Francisco.

Indeed, to be 70 is to be a part of a generation that fought to bring about the end to racial segregation in this country. It's difficult to imagine now but it wasn't long ago that many American citizens were relegated to second class status, and worse, by law and social attitudes.

Putting those impediments to equality to rest was an epic moment in this country's history. Those of us who took part did so because, simply, it was the right thing to do.

My generation was the first to embrace rock `n' roll. Whatever else you might think about it, rock was exciting and liberating, the pulsating background music to an era of change in this country. Nobody was going to march for justice to the sounds of Bing Crosby.

We weren't the greatest generation, not by a long shot. But we can look back and see that we made a difference.

So here we stand poised on the banks of the River Jordan or the River Styx, depending on how things work out. The sun is still above the horizon but not by much.

But I'm not ready to say goodbye quite yet. Like a 6 year old, I'm still searching for worlds to explore and adventures to be had.

After all, as George Bernard Shaw said, "We don't stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing."

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