Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Reflections on 42 years

The reality of being an "old fart" (in Yiddish the colloquialism would be alte kocker) is definitely setting in following the wake of the 50th anniversary (on March 14) of WTUL, the college radio station that was only a little over a decade old when I initially entered its doors. That was just a week past the opulent wedding of my niece, who had served as one of my flower girls almost a quarter of a century ago. She will celebrate her 30th birthday in just a few more days, but before that occurs, there is yet another big event that must be recalled. Today is the 42nd anniversary of my Bar Mitzvah. There's not a lot to be said about that other than it seems unfathomable that four decades have elapsed in the interim and that so many of my friends seem so very much older than they should be. For some reason the good Lord has chosen to keep me here in good health and with all of my faculties and limbs intact. So far, so good. Yet, 42 years is a long time to trod upon this earth and not have problems. More than one of my friends and relatives now use hearing aids and some younger than I use canes to facilitate their mobility. Many are grandparents several times over and in a few instances great-grandparents. I feel blessed to still have pretty good eyesight and no cataract surgery planned in my future. Yet many of my contemporaries and relatives have endured such operations with splendid results. It would seem that medical science has made the transition of these past 42 years much more tolerable. Still, like money lost at the racetrack or at a casino, I can't help but pine for those past four decades and change. The finite time set for our lives by our Creator tends to loom more in focus with each successive year. How we live our lives and treat our fellow human beings counts for a lot as we become more and more dependent on others for our care. Perhaps, if we knew how fragile our existence would become at life's end, we might take better care of our bodies and treat relatives and friends with more kindness. But when one becomes a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, he or she feel invincible and indomitable. Nothing can keep a 13-year-old down for long, especially as the world, a sea of endless possibilities, is concerned. Were that kind of boundless energy able to be contained, bottled and sold, the lines would be winding around the blocks of convenience stores as alte kockers like me would be anxiously awaiting our purchases. Yesterday being St. Patrick's Day, I thought about Irish playwright and author George Bernard Shaw. It was Shaw who once remarked "Youth is such a wonderful thing. It's a shame to waste it on children." We may laugh at such an outlandish proposition, but it rings so true. These last 42 years have given me great pleasure (e.g., a marriage, a son, etc.) as well as great sorrow (e.g. the loss of my father, wife and grandparents among others). Through it all, I have strived to live with purpose and love. In some cases I have succeeded, while in others I have not. The 42 years that have elapsed since I became a man in the eyes of my faith have prepared me for both the unexpected and the mundane. I believe that everyone should approach life with the same kind of wonder that we all held as a 13-year-old. Too often we forget that joie de vivre as we pursue education, careers and families. We have a tendency to think about tomorrow as a given and we need to think about it as a blessing instead. I recall another Shaw quotation in which he touched on some of the spunk of youth still inviolate in his breast at the twilight of his days: "The longer I live the more I see I am not wrong about anything, and that all the pains I have taken to verify my notions have only wasted my time." Shaw lived to be 94. If I am lucky enough to celebrate another four decades beyond my Bar Mitzvah, I hope that I have as much spirit as he obviously did.

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