Monday, October 19, 2020

Staircase wisdom

     Eating food together isn't the only way to socialize, you know.
     My wife and I met another couple, longtime friends, at the Chicago Botanic Garden Saturday afternoon and we had a pleasant 90 minute stroll. We paired off by gender, my wife with his wife, and her husband with me, talking away. At one point he asked me about turning 60, and I sort of shrugged. The word "acceptance" came to mind, but I didn't feel like trotting that out. Nothing traumatic. We agreed that sailing into your 60s is a sea change from being in your 50s. It begins to feel old.
     My thoughts on the subject didn't clarify until the next day, reading the New York Times obituary for Scott Lilienfield, 59 "Psychologist Who Questioned Science of Psychology" in the shorthand of the Gray Lady's headline writers. I probably would have read it anyway—he was an iconoclast questioning the mistaken certainties of his field, my type of fellow—but I especially find myself drawn to the obituaries of people younger than myself. I'm not sure why. Curiosity—how'd they do with less time than I've frittered away? Part obligation to the fallen, perhaps, part celebration of being the reader and not the subject.
     He worked to deepen the understanding of "so-called psychopathic behavior." I'm not sure why the Times feels compelled to not only insert that skeptical "so-called"—to me, like global warming; it's just there—but also to explain it.
     "Psychopathy is characterized by superficial charm, grandiosity, pathological lying and a lack of empathy."
     Do I have to say it? No? Of course not. Too obvious, right? Good.
     "Three underlying personality features that psychopaths share...: fearless dominance, meanness and impulsivity."
     It is so difficult to shake politics nowadays, isn't it?
     About 2/3 of the way through, the narrative backtracks, as newspaper obituaries do, starting at the beginning of life. "Scott Owen Lilienfeld was born on Dec. 23, 1960, in Queens..."
     So he would have been 60 this December, had not pancreatic cancer intervened. At which point I realized I now have an adequate answer to my friend's question that stymied me at the Botanic Garden, the one about how I view turning 60. As a gift. Definitely. A present that not everyone is lucky enough to receive.


  1. I'm guessing you knew this all along. Good health to you.

  2. When I turned 40 I thought to myself “I’m getting older”. The same when I turned 50. When I turned 60 I thought “I AM getting old”. You just keep pushing the next decade away from reality.
    When 70 does arrive, God willing, there will be no “getting” old; you just ARE old. And grateful to be alive and well :)

    1. When I turned thirty, someone told me: "If your life was a calendar year, you'd already be in mid-July." Like a putz, I believed that nonsense. Sat for a portrait done by an artist neighbor. Gave it to my folks. Years later, I got my "gift" back from them. Her work was terrible! Eyes were different sizes, and one was lower than the other. Why had I even had it done? Because...I actually felt OLD!

      Forty? My longtime companion and I finally married. Figured it was about time. It didn't last...only four more years. Fifty? Had a big outdoor birthday bash, with my second wife and three other folks who were also born in the summer of '47. We partied under a banner I made. It read: "We're old...we're dorky...get used to it."

      Sixty? A bummer. Big outdoor doo-wop concert was cancelled. Flooded out. Seventy? Partied with thousands of my new friends, in Carbondale, on the occasion of the total solar eclipse. Both my wife and I had waited a whole lifetime to see one. It was worth the long wait. There's another one three years from next April. Start planning ahead. Now. You won't regret it. Probably the second-best two minutes you'll ever have.

      Three years later, I'm finally starting to look and feel my age. Various ailments, less stamina, less energy, tired more easily. Probably should start hiring people to do the grass and leaves and snow. But I'm still standing. Still have all my hair--and a lot of it is not yet gray.

      Casey Stengel famously said, at 70: "Most people my age are dead...and you can look it up." Sadly, I already know quite a few people who didn't make it to seventy. And even a handful who didn't make it to sixty. When you pass seventy, you're not only a geezer or a're also a survivor.

  3. Well put. Not everyone gets there.

  4. I used to chat occasionally with a neighbor who was in her 80s. She, beset by various ailments -- none incapacitating, however -- would warn me "Don't ever grow old!" I would always think (and once-in-a-while reply) that it beats the alternative, doesn't it? That being said, I did not envy her for the number of obituaries of significant people from her life which she'd had to read, and those losses she'd had to deal with.

  5. When I crossed 70 I started making decisions based on knowing I’m not going to be around a whole lot longer. I also stopped mowing my yard. I now hire someone for everything I used to do myself. Not because I can’t. I got lucky and don’t have to anymore.


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