One day you look in the mirror and you are confronted by the results of your life. Old school, old body, old points of view. Here I am at 75, filled with perspective, stories, regrets, reminisces based on memories, and based on memories of memories twice removed. At the ready with “Oh yeah, you think that’s something” and other rebuts designed to earn begrudging respect, or at least prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that I didn’t merely age in place. That I’ve had a life. The process, my process, picked up speed during an endless series of transitions. Age, as you may know, is an accumulation of on-the-job adjustments. I am, at this very moment, a subtotal of my long and checkered past.
The first time I wrote a, “Why I Decided to Become…” essay, I was turning 30. I had a front row seat in the white, middle class golden 1950s and 60s, a vantage point that allowed me to witness the morphing of Kerouac’s Beat Generation into Tom Hayden’s new left. The reawakening of racial justice splintering forward. An opportunity to watch as Timothy Leary’s doors of perception transformed into a pharmaceutical candy store. I was there during the war/anti-war 70s. But confused. Against the war, but in it. “Hello, Da Nang, remember me?” By the time my lifespan measured three decades, I’d been around.
I put a note on my calendar and followed up with “Why I Decided to Turn 40.” That had more to do with wife, kids, friends, and career. I don’t understand how I got into our family. The screener must have been distracted. My childhood had little to do with close knit relationships, yet my wife, daughters and I formed a synergetic powerhouse. I became immersed in personal and professional projects that seemed to require continuing attention. I recall endless attempts to coax reality out of dreams. My goal had always been to reach a decent level of obscurity. I must say, I was succeeding.
Being alive turns out to be a relentless countdown, what with friends and family members missing in action, and the realization that much of what I once considered progress ended up resisting expectations. What the hell was I thinking was a frequent question. Guilty as fooled, your honor. Misled by heroes, and pundits, and free-floating beliefs. There is a lot to disparage. But not everything.
Fortunately, time has invited me to tag along. I’ve been a kid show entertainer for 60 years. Still at it, to the extent that I can convince anyone to let the old guy on stage. I’m preparing for my grand finale, but secretly, hope there will be demands for an encore. As always, when I am allowed to perform, the audience becomes a joyful sounding board and I become fully alive. People tell me I’m in the moment. I tell them, “I’m just a guy feeling his destiny.”
Members of our family tend to support one another and as much of the outside world as our shoulders and hearts can manage on any given day. Occasionally, it’s a heavy load. Our children have blossomed. They are surefooted, curious, engaged, affiliated with the many who devote thoughtful effort and energy to improving the lives of others. Makes me feel lucky just to know my daughters, more or less take any credit for their development. They’ve obviously patterned their lives after their mother.
Twain said, “There is no sadder sight than a young pessimist, except an old optimist.” I’ve traveled that spiritual arch, and yet continue to find life addicting. I don’t feel stranded in oblivion waiting for Godot. I’m hanging out on a busy corner, waiting to see if the future can right the past.
Charles E. Kraus is the author of four books, among them, You’ll Never Work Again in Teaneck, NJ, a memoir.