Someone I’m very close to will be observing his birthday this week, but this ordinarily upbeat individual isn’t in the mood to celebrate the start of his seventh decade. His body language all but shouts, “Sixty seems so old!”
This fellow and I go back a long way. We were born in the same now-demolished hospital, played on the same Little League Baseball team, graduated from the same high school, and attended the same university. He’s a hard working, enthusiastic team player who’s great to my kids. And I can count on him to tell me the truth even when he knows I might not enjoy hearing it.
When we grew up no one was 60. Everyone’s parents, it seemed, were in their 30’s or 40’s; grandparents were all over 70. My friend swears he never knew anyone in his or her 60’s until his own mother reached that age.
My lifelong pal excels at a job he loves. He’s still reasonably active; compared to others of our vintage he looks and feels pretty good. He has the love of a great family, plus the respect and affection of scores of friends, neighbors, and professional colleagues. But it’s been tough shaking him out of his current malaise.
To hear him tell it he’s not as physically fit as he once was. His hearing and once-excellent eyesight have both deteriorated. In crowded rooms he finds himself asking people to repeat themselves once and sometimes twice, but after that he just nods and pretends to understand whatever was said. He needs specs first thing in the morning just to recognize who’s saying hello. His back creaks, as do various other joints from time to time.
I pointed out to him that in China one’s 60th birthday holds special meaning and is often celebrated with lavish gifts and festivities. His doleful, Eeyore-like response was, “We don’t live in China.”
Appealing to his sense of humor, I cracked, “You used to remember the early 60’s, and now you’re in ‘em.” He showed about half the amusement and appreciation I would have gotten had I addressed the same good-natured remark to the Sphinx.
I’ve tried at least a dozen creative ways to reassure him that turning 60 isn’t traumatic (at the very least it beats the alternative), yet he still hasn’t bought into it.
But after an epiphany I had last night I know he’s going to. What I need to do in order to liberate him from the doldrums is personalize the message I’m trying to convey, which is that this birthday, not to mention any and all future ones, should make him grateful, not rueful.
I’ll tell him our boyhood pals David, Andy, Raymond, Kurt, and Russ would all love to have his problems, but like our college friend Stan they all died long ago.
I’ll remind him Anne Frank, Emmett Till, Samantha Smith and King Tut never got out of their teens. I’ll point out Nathan Hale, Jimi Hendrix, Pocahontas and Pat Tillman never had a 30th birthday, and that Princess Diana, Lou Gehrig, Karen Carpenter, and Martin Luther King, Jr. never saw 40. I’ll further mention Alexander Hamilton, Walter Payton, Jane Austen and John F. Kennedy didn’t even last a half-century, and that Abraham Lincoln, Steve Jobs, Will Rogers and William Shakespeare all expired prior to reaching 60.
And if that doesn’t convince him starting a seventh decade of life is far more privilege than burden, I’ll appeal to his lifelong love of the history of America’s nominal National Pastime, informing him Baseball Hall of Fame members Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Don Drysdale, Mel Ott, Christy Mathewson, Gary Carter, Nellie Fox, Catfish Hunter, Kirby Puckett and Tony Gwynn never saw 60.
Then, I’ll add for good measure, neither did Curt Flood, Roger Maris, Tommie Agee, Turk Farrell, Bobby Bonds, Cal Koonce, Deron Johnson, Joe Foy, Don McMahon, Harvey Kuenn, Carl Morton, Ken Boyer, Zoilo Versalles, Mark Belanger, Cesar Tovar, Elston Howard, Chris Short, Dan Quisenberry, Vada Pinson, Tony Conigliaro, Dick Selma, Ken Brett, Dick Howser, Tug McGraw or scores of other guys whose baseball cards we used to collect not so long ago.
I’m convinced this approach will help my friend find an attitude of gratitude, so much so that I’m going to share it with him first thing tomorrow morning when I see him in the bathroom mirror.
I just hope the old guy can hear me. And that I’ve got glasses on, so I can be sure I’m talking to the right person.Andy Young
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