My 65th birthday approaches. Unbelievable! It doesn’t seem so long ago that I looked in the mirror and for the first time realized that I was not a kid any more. Actually, that moment was about thirty five years ago. It was very disturbing then to not look young since I still felt young. Well, now not only do I not look young, I don’t feel so young either.
Father Time and Mother Nature have taken their toll. Knee problems have forced me to abandon tennis and they are threatening my cycling ‘career’ as well. My wife—who has her own physical issues—and I rarely go dancing any longer, and when we do, it is pretty tame. I won’t speak of other physical activities at which we formerly jointly excelled. Incredibly, although of course we are not biologically related, we both suffer from similar forms of IBS and our diet has become so bland that eating is no longer the unmitigated joy that it once was. We still remember each other’s names, but where the keys are, whether today’s medication has been ingested yet or not, and exactly why I got out of that chair and where I intended to go—well, those are too much to ask.
When I allow my gaze to lift from my progressively decrepit physique to the state of the world, the view does not improve. I see a European continent whose people are intent on committing cultural, religious and demographic suicide. I see a vicious and evil new adversary whose depraved visions embrace suicide bombing, public executions, oppression of women, religious bigotry and a feudal society devoid of the rule of law. I see a beleaguered and increasingly exhausted State of Israel whose continued existence is in grave doubt. Domestically, I see political acrimony of extreme proportions between two increasingly divergent philosophies for governing our fair land. I see out of control entitlement programs; a behemoth known as the federal government that does more harm than good; an educational system that does not inculcate American youth with pride and love of country; a media that poisons the cultural atmosphere with unspeakable violence and filth; and a nation that seems to grow weary of our lonely and unappreciated role as the protector of the free world. Finally, the Redskins stink, and since they are saddled with a young, stubborn and arrogant owner, they might be consigned to mediocrity for decades.
It’s enough to make me depressed. But fortunately, when I am drawn in that direction, I try to think more positively. That mirror reveals not only an ‘old guy,’ but also someone with all his teeth, most of his hair, and a still slim figure. My wife’s dance card and dietary choices might be limited, but she still has the same beautiful face and captivating smile that felled me for life 50 years ago. I have two wonderful sons, devoted daughters-in-law and three fantastic grandchildren—all of whom live nearby. I also have siblings, nieces, cousins and many great friends with whom I am close—and a healthy octogenarian parent who is an inspiration to all of us. In addition, my wife and I recently found the wherewithal to purchase a vacation home, about which we have dreamed all our lives. I’ve traveled the world and I had, and still have, a great job. Finally, the Redskins might stink, but I did personally attend two of their Super Bowl victories. All of these experiences, relationships and memories more than compensate for the aches and pains and misplaced keys.
A similarly revised assessment of the ‘state of the world’ is in order. During my lifetime I have been privileged to witness my country lead the free world to victory over fascism, and then over communism. I saw the conversion of bloodthirsty dictatorships in Germany and Japan into friendly democracies. We almost pulled off the same feat in Russia—not quite, but the situation is still far better than during the Cold War when nuclear destruction threatened the world. More people live in free societies today than one could have imagined several decades ago. The economic prosperity that we enjoy—fueled by a combination of imaginative technological innovations and a magnificent American work ethic—is spreading around the world. Life expectancy is up, the air and rivers are cleaner, and despite the fact that our country’s population is more diverse (in terms of race, ethnic identity and religion) than ever before, we live in a peaceful society, governed according to the rule of law. All of America’s citizens enjoy unprecedented liberty and the freedoms guaranteed to us by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. We are privileged to live in a truly unique society in the history of the world.
So what’s the moral of the story? For me there are three:
1. Human beings come in two varieties—the ‘glass is half empty’ type and the ‘glass is half full’ type. In which group you sit is largely a function of your intrinsic nature; you don’t really have a choice about it. To those of you in the latter category, count your blessings. It’s wonderful to be inherently optimistic, cheerful and upbeat—even when the situation doesn’t warrant. But for those of us in the former category, we live with the curse of involuntarily seeing the dark side of all situations. We cannot avoid anticipating the potentially doleful consequences of uncertain circumstances, our pessimistic thought processes always crowding out the possibility of cheery outcomes. The point is that even with self-recognition, it is difficult to control the impulses toward unfavorable assessments of event outcomes. But outlining both sides of the coin—personal and general—as I did above helps me to suppress my natural inclination toward accentuating the negative when contemplating my or my country’s condition.
2. The following is trite but true. Life’s a ride; enjoy the ride! Most people upon reaching senior citizen status can count a multitude of good times, and of bad times, over the course of their life’s journey. More of the same is probably in store for the rest of the trip. Well, we ought to appreciate the fact that the scenery has been interesting rather than boring on our journey. Life is a magical gift and the trip through it is an adventure, which, although sometimes painful, is to be savored.
3. Finally, I recall a lesson that the aforementioned octogenarian tried to teach me when I was a kid growing up in the tenements of the Bronx. I’m not sure we qualified as poor, but we lived at a standard of living that was significantly below that of many of America’s poor today. When I would complain about things I could not have or about unfortunate life occurrences, said parent would counsel me to be ‘grateful for what you’ve got.’ A simple lesson that is not as easily taught in today’s culture, which emphasizes the acquisition of material goods and the alleviation of every societal and financial problem by a ‘benevolent’ government. Invoking that lesson, I assert that reaching 65 is not so terrible. As they say, it sure beats the alternative.