Thursday, August 30, 2012

Birthday Thoughts: Age is Relative

Several years ago, a bug-eyed comedian named Dennis Wolfberg spoke about his age. “I’m in my very late 30s,” he said. “I’m 43.”

Tomorrow, I will once again reach my very late 50s. So I’m thinking about age today.

How do we talk about age or think about age? George Carlin noted that when you’re young, you use half-year designations or the word “almost.”  You’re “6 and a half” or “almost 7.” Not too many people would say, “I’m 52 and a half” or “almost 53.” Well, I’m in my very late 50s.

More on age:

Audrey and I were watching Kim Clijsters at the U.S. Open the other night and wondered how old she was. Pulling out the trusty iPad, I discovered that she was born in 1983. That meant that she was one year older than our daughter Amanda. I didn’t have to think about Amanda’s age (to me she’s always around 16 or 18 or 21, though I recognize that she is older and is quite mature for whatever her age; she always has been). I just considered Kim Clijsters to be practically the same age. I do that a lot: comparing the age of writers, actresses, Internet moguls, or ballplayers to that of my children. Sometimes this does not make me feel good about my own age, I must admit.

When I did think about Amanda’s actual age—28—I realized that she is coincidentally the same age as our dog Tess, who turned 4 two weeks ago. That’s 4 in dog years and 28 in relative human terms. If this seems convoluted, so what? I’m in my very late 50s.

Amanda and Tess today

(and Amanda in my mind)
Reaching this age has put me in the position to celebrate another milestone: the 50th anniversary of my Bar Mitzvah. And so I am. Come to the Glen Rock Jewish Center next Saturday morning, and you can hear me lead the services, chant my Haftarah, read a small amount of the Torah portion, and even deliver a speech. And I will be using mostly the same tunes that I used 50 years ago (they still resonate in my head). The speech is new, however. Luckily, my voice is better than it was 50 years ago, when it had a lot of trouble deciding whether it belonged to an alto or a baritone, or occasionally to both at the same time. But my memory is not as good. And I have many more memories to try to hold onto.

More on age:

My mother will turn 93 in January and seems more positive about her life than I have heard her sound in years. Our friend Til, the skier and gardener, recently turned 80. Bob Dylan is 70 and just released a new album in which he growls like Louis Armstrong or Tom Waits. Our biking group in Belgium featured as many 70- and 80-year olds as 60-somethings. So there is hope even for someone reaching his very late 50s.

I figure that this ramble should end with something literary, so here goes:

When I Was Your Age

My uncle said, “How do you get to school?”
I said, “By bus,” and my uncle smiled.
“When I was your age,” my uncle said,
“I walked it barefoot--seven miles.”

My uncle said, “How much weight can you tote?”
I said, “One bag of grain.” my uncle laughed.
“When I was your age,” my uncle said,
“I could drive a wagon--and lift a calf.”

My uncle said, “How many fights have you had?”
I said, “Two--and both times I got whipped.”
“When I was your age,” my uncle said,
“I fought every day--and was never licked.”

My uncle said, “How old are you?”
I said, “Nine and a half,” and then
My uncle puffed out his chest and said,
“When I was your age… I was ten.”

-- Shel Silverstein

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