More precious grows life as the years quickly pass
I turned 74 this winter, Jan. 31 to be exact.
Having commenced the 75th year, one can be excused for thinking of mortality, but healthily not morbidly. While we know that everything alive will die, we can be excused for feeling that this is not our time.
There is a wisp of truth to that old saying, "One is as old as one feels." And there is wisdom in Satchel Paige's observation - "How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?" Does knowing our age influence who we are? Is my birth certificate accurate? I assume it is, but I have no memory of being born. Perhaps I didn't turn 74? Do I care? No. It's as good a day as any.
Picasso had it right too, "It takes a long time to become young." It does.
As children, we said whatever was on our minds. The same is true when we are older. Age provides freedoms, especially of expression; though perhaps less of the physical variety. We are less mindful (but hopefully still respectful) of what others think; so more apt to speak as we please.
A few months ago in The New York Times, Anne Karpf, a British journalist and sociologist, wrote "…our sense of what's important grows with age. We experience life more intensely than before, whatever our physical limitations, because we know it won't last forever" - a sobering, but compelling thought.
Mental gymnastics are as important as their physical kin in holding back aging, but the process cannot be stopped. As an old southern expression has it: "Ain't time a wrecker!" It is, and despite the allegation by Ponce de León, there are no Fountains of Youth; there are only face lifts, Botox and the like, all of which are obvious to even the casual observer.
The march of time is inexorable. Stopping the aging process is as futile as turning back the tide. So, we are best off to get on with it and enjoy ourselves.
Those among us fortunate to have grandchildren derive an invaluable, secondary benefit as we age. When we were new parents, our children looked upon us as the font of all knowledge. Soon enough, realism replaced credulity, as our fallibilities surfaced and became too obvious to ignore.
With grandchildren, we get a second shot. They project toward us adoration normally available only to actors, athletes and rock stars. However, like belief in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, we know that this too will pass. In the meantime, such adulation provides for wonderful moments of confidence building.
While the limits to our knowledge will soon be exploited by our fast-learning grandchildren, there is, if I may be so bold, something more lasting in the wisdom we have accumulated and can offer. Jared Diamond, a UCLA professor and author who writes on the subject of aging, observes, "If you want to get advice on complicated problems, ask someone who is 70; don't ask someone who is 25."
Sitting at my computer, I note that I am 16 years older than was my father when he died and only five years younger than my mother when she slipped her harness. But I emerge from that self-induced funk and look out at the snow accumulating in the fields, sense the cold of the ground underneath, but derive comfort from the knowledge that beneath that frozen soil lives the promise of spring and the resurrection of life.
The most important thing to realize, as birthdays appear with what seems increasing frequency, is how lucky we are to be here in the first place. When one considers the happenstance of our parents and their parents meeting (going back thousands of generations) and the billions of spent sperms and unfertilized eggs that are wasted, the odds against being born are billions and billions to one.
I am even more fortunate to have a family I love, to be healthy and to be have celebrated another birthday. I hope for many more.
Life must be rejoiced and part of life is getting older.
Sydney Williams is co-founder, managing partner and chief investment officer at Monness, Crespi, Hardt & Co., Inc. He lives in Old Lyme. The views expressed are his own.