I hate getting old.
It isn’t about the increase in my scalp-to-hair ratio. It isn’t the tinnitus that makes understanding conversation in a noisy environment inconveniently difficult. It isn’t even the near-certainty that I’ve lived more years than I’m going to live.
It’s hearing myself explain that some new idea is just exactly the same as an old idea with which I’m already familiar. It’s thinking of new technologies as inconveniences, rather than as opportunities.
Most of all, it’s spending more of my time and attention disapproving of how other people live their lives, and less of it enjoying my own.
Listen to old people of all ages. They sound the same:
“Britney Spears should be ashamed of herself. How could she even think of doing that, now that she’s a mother! (And remind me — what’s the URL?)”
“These kids with their iPods — they’re each off in their own little world. And they’re ruining their hearing!”
“Rap music isn’t music. How can they stand to listen to it?”
Or, “We used to talk about what people do in moral terms. Now, everything is a syndrome, and everyone avoids taking responsibility for bad behavior.”
Not all old people are old. Many of them are young. I hear college-age old people say things like, “Those hippies during the Vietnam war — all they did was take drugs!”
They’re too young to be old. So am I, and so are you, no matter how old you are. I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions, but I’m going to make an exception this year and I hope you will too. I’m going to remind myself, at least once a week that:
I might not have been a hippy, but I did grow up in the Sixties. I admired the hippies back then. They had the courage to reject old ideas that didn’t seem to be working very well and to explore new ones.
Along the way they championed the civil rights movement when most of their parents worried that having blacks move into the neighborhood would ruin their property values. They championed opposition to the Vietnam war … and from everything I know they had the right of that issue, too. They created new forms of musical expression and art, and whether you personally like them, that’s nothing to sneer at. They were willing to take risks to explore new ideas.
Maybe, just maybe, some of what looks like evil really is a syndrome. From everything we know, for example, serial killers and abusers were, universally, abused themselves as children. That doesn’t make their behavior acceptable. It does make it a consequence of their personal experience. That means the child molester is uncomfortably similar to me: A product of his genes and upbringing just as I am a product of mine.
Rap music … no. I have to draw the line somewhere. There’s only one rap song, repeated over, and over, and over again, and it’s awful.
Those kids with iPods are less obnoxious than their predecessors with boom boxes. Also, at the same age I placed my guitar amplifier in my dorm room window and treated much of the campus to my taste in music (Pink Floyd’s Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict if you must know) — the same guitar amplifier, by the way, that probably caused my tinnitus.
Britney Spears, and just about every other young celebrity, faces temptations every day beyond what most of us will ever face. Had most of us experienced similar temptations at her age, we would have behaved no better. Mostly, I suspect we’re jealous. Britney Spears’ lifestyle is entirely understandable. Tiger Woods’ daily decision to not follow suit is what’s remarkable.
Last year we lost Steve Irwin, the crocodile hunter, to as bizarre a freak accident as any naturalist has ever heard of. The next day the disapprovers were out in force, expressing their disapproval of his decision to live his own life the way he wanted to live it. I heard no talking head ask any other talking head, “Why is this your business?” I guess all talking heads are old.
Starting right now, I’m taking the pledge. Every time I hear myself disapprove of anything anyone else does that’s none of my business, I’m going to whack myself upside the head. If it makes my head hurt enough, maybe I’ll stop doing it.
I suggest you do the same. If you do, this holiday season you’ll give yourself something priceless — the gift of eternal youth.
* * *I’m taking a week off — see you after the new year.