Instead of the usual lecture yesterday evening, we were treated to an outstanding recital by pianist Asaf Fire. Top of my enjoyment list was Mozart’s piano concerto in D minor. I am a Mozart nut and can, and often do, listen to his music for hours on end. While the concert was in progress I thought to myself that Asaf was playing it better than Mozart himself could have – and then I got to thinking that it probably sounded rather different to Mozart than it did to us yesterday, what with modern technology and new instruments. Mozart composed for the piano when the instrument had been in existence for about only 100 years.
What gave him the gift of magic he had? His music, composed in 30 short years from about 1760 to 1791, has not only endured but it increases in popularity as the years pass. Can you imagine our world today if Mozart had been born in the last 50 years, in the years of advanced medical treatment and healthcare? Can you imagine the attention and care that Mozart would have received once his genius was recognized – the teachers, the schools of music, the fostering of his genius?
I understand that all music, and especially great music, can be interpreted in many different ways. So it is with the music of Mozart. When Asaf started playing the piano concerto in D minor I was immediately at home – his interpretation is the one I hum and whistle, the one that I know so well. Not so with others in the auditorium of the retirement home. There were about another 100 Mozart fans present in the audience and each one has his or her own Mozart interpretation: “You are playing too fast here, too slow there…!”
Do you ever think about your retirement, how it will be, what you will do, how you will pass the hours of the day? Forget the money side for a moment – that’s part of a different dream (or nightmare). After a certain age, we all begin to take a look into our futures, wondering how life will be.
First of all life is totally unpredictable. No one knows what the next day will bring. Ask any Syrian and they will tell you how all their dreams slid out from under their feet overnight. But revolutions aside, you will need something to keep you occupied after you have stopped working. What will your days look like between sleeping and eating? What happens when you decide to give up golf or get tired of shopping or your eyes give you trouble and you can’t read any longer?
I live in a retirement home so I see what retirees do. Some sit around in little knots for hours at a time, drinking coffee and either gossiping or trying to solve the problems of the world. Others play bridge or other card games at every opportunity. But these are time passing activities. I see a few cars driving out in the morning and returning in the evening, so these are people who are either going to work or maybe to baby-sit for the day.
There is shopping, of course, and I am surprised at how much time it takes. It’s the whole deal, the parking, the shopping, the standing in line to check out, getting the stuff into the car and then up to one’s apartment. But shopping doesn’t count as a retirement activity.
One needs a retirement plan, a reason to get up in the morning. That’s what you should start thinking about now.
After 3 days I reckon that being 80 is no big deal. There have been no major changes; my back is still bent and I still walk like a question mark. I recognized and greeted a couple of old acquaintances yesterday – they are both pushing 90 and I’m not sure they knew who I was – my appetite is great and I can still read the small print. What did happen is that this morning, whilst doing the crossword, I found myself sitting with the answer to a clue hanging off the end of my tongue and not making it all the way to the pen.
That’s the only change I can detect, an inkling of slow retrieval from the vast storage system I shlep around with me. The filing system is full, most of the drawers overflowing. ‘Family and Friends’ is pretty full, ‘Engineering and Information Technology’ is bursting and has a notice hanging on the front – “no new information accepted here’. ‘Culture’ has small spaces available under books, music and writing, but the worst of the lot is ‘Department of Useless Information’ which houses stuff for use in quizzes, crosswords and the like. It has huge globs of information hanging from it hoping it will still be called on to provide an answer. There is no ‘Full’ notice so I keep pushing more and more in there hoping it will find a place. But I’m starting to think it’s a waste of time.
We all build these huge storage systems for ourselves, convinced they are made of concrete and will be there forever. It’s not like that at all. They are made of some kind of Jello and are highly susceptible to outside influence. In extreme cases they melt and leave one with no memory at all.
The character I couldn’t think of in the story of Jason and the Argonauts was Helle. How could I forget him?
After the great birthday bash on Saturday evening followed by the slide show and movie of my life dug out by a grand-daughter, I feel I’m over the hump so to speak and from now on it’s all going to be downhill. On the other hand a voice is shouting at me from somewhere inside saying ‘get your ass in gear – it’s a whole new challenge’. I’ve already found out that I am in no place for the weak-hearted and I have proven many times that the couch is the easiest and the most comfortable way to spend time.
Does it feel different? In many ways it does, but it’s not a physical thing, rather a sense of achievement at having arrived safely. Having grown up in a world where life expectancies were about 20 years less one, one eventually expects that you will follow suit. So in many ways, as my ex-neighbor who was in his late 80s used to say, “I am surprised every day”.
The trick now is to remain healthy and occupied. The healthy part only depends partially on me – most of it has to do with good genes. I am kept occupied, working a few hours on some, but not all days. This is due to a boss who hopefully has forgotten my age and who I never see, so he is not reminded. Then there is the crossword and the blog and I may learn to play bridge when I retire. Bridge is a major activity here in the retirement home but I walk past occasionally and take a good look at the players – it’s the bridge that’s making them look so old?
And then there is the painting. Finally I am Old so it should be a short step to becoming an Old-Master, right?
Today is the big birthday, “a day of celebration and reflection” as I am sure the rabbi would say, a day you shake hands and kiss everyone who is part of your life and sit quietly and think back over the years you have spent on the planet. Eighty years is a long time and a long life. Few of our ancestors reached such an age and few of them could talk about such a long lifespan.
My life started in 1933 and has passed through a world war in which I was intimately involved through letters from a beloved uncle who never came back. Luckily I was far away and besides a couple of half-hearted air-raid drills at school there was no other connection to the war. I lived through a holocaust but it was two continents away and we only heard about it after it was over. I lived through other wars which I could only read about in the newspapers.
I was involved in the development of new cars and planes by riding in them at the first opportunity. I rode on trains with steam engines and missed the horse and cart era by careful timing. I cheered when Mount Everest was conquered and the four minute mile was broken. I was here when the Beatles first took the stage and I was waiting at the door when television came into our homes. I wore a little bag of garlic around my neck to keep the polio away and I also witnessed the end of polio. Unfortunately I watched as it was followed by the arrival of Aids. I was one of those who held one’s breath when the Americans shot a man into space and put him on the moon. I saw an American president and then an Israeli prime minister being assassinated.
Of course I was waiting on the corner when personal computers arrived and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on one. From then on it’s been one mad rush after another to keep up with the technology race.
If I had been given the choice, “Pick yourself an interesting lifetime”, I couldn’t have done better!
We are all creatures of habit, from the moment we first appear. And the older we get, the thicker the habit, until finally it gets to the point where we cannot break it, or we need professional help to even make a dent in it. In our Senior Years, it is a real challenge. Here I am stuck in the middle of an exhausting habit struggle. It’s not serious or life-threatening but it’s a damned nuisance, time wasting and highly irritating.
About 18 months ago I bought a new laptop computer. At the time, I did what I thought was very clever. I told the technician to make it an exact copy of the old computer I was using so I didn’t have to start looking for things in dark places or dig around deep in the belly of the box. And he did it. The very first time I sat down in front of it I was at home. I continued as though I had driven over one of those speed bumps that you hardly feel. And my computer life was a smooth drive for 18 months.
Then came the crash. The technicians and recovery staff have managed to cobble most things together but there was no instruction to ‘make it as I like it” or “make an exact copy” this time and here at 80 years old, I am struggling to find myself, so to speak.
Take this morning. The routine is to switch on computer and click on Radio Mozart or Radio Otto. I found Radio Mozart after a 15 minute search, but Radio Otto took an hour and I’m not sure if the version I found is what I had and liked. I found my bank account quite easily but it comes out backwards. I prefer the bad news first. All my icons have disappeared and of course all my writing that wasn’t backed-up has gone forever.
And yes, the word-count button on the top of the article templates that I use is no longer there. I could run on forever…
My beloved laptop computer crashed a few days ago. It was fine, we worked together batting out an article, smiling and laughing together. Then I saved everything as I have learned to do and went away for a couple of hours. I retuned and hit the space bar signaling that I was ready to work again and all I got in return was a blank screen. “The hard disk died suddenly,” said computerman as rubbed his hands in anticipation. He grabbed the laptop from me and began pressing buttons. “Can you see? It’s dead! Dead as a doornail!” He left before I could even ask for a quotation.
Two days later it’s back. “Everything is fine and we managed to save just about everything,” he said. “We know you had it all backed up. Ha,Ha…” Bust besides what wasn’t backed up, like the past 6 months, there are other problems and for the life of me I can’t deal with them. I understand what’s wrong and a couple of years ago I remember fixing these things easily. Now I find myself hesitating at every step. Besides those irritations there are a couple of major problems which computerman has to solve when he comes sailing in on his blue cape.
I used Word and Excel 2003 because I always used Word and Excel 2003. You have upgraded me to 2010 and I have decided that I’m not going there. I want those old outdated programs back. It’s very simple – I cannot now start learning new software. It’s all a question of sell-by dates; not the software’s, mine. You are trying to impose new information into a box that is already full. It just won’t go in… But thanks, anyway, for the confidence you have in me.
Maybe I Do… I didn’t shave on Friday by mistake. Something happened at shave time and I missed out. It happens. Friday morning emergencies, you know. I missed shaving again on Saturday and on Sunday I decided to give it a miss as well. By Monday one could see a distinct 9 o’clock shadow so I decided to leave it and see what develops. Maybe a nice, homey looking beard suitable for my age will appear. I always admire those elderly men who have beautifully sculptured beards. Today at breakfast my wife said, “You didn’t shave this morning.”
“Aha, you noticed,” I said. “It’s been like this since Friday.” “Well, get rid of it! You trying to look like 90?” she asked. “Maybe,” I said. “Maybe it’ll suit me, make me look distinguished and intelligent.” “Go shave!” she says. “Give it a chance,” I plead. “Maybe you’ll even like it,” I say. “Hrmpph. I hate it already!”
It’s still there. I don’t know what all the fuss is about with beards. I took a good look at Abe Lincoln in the movie ‘Lincoln’ the other evening. His beard was terrible. I bet his wife Mary never said a word about the scruffy, moth-eaten whiskers he sported. What about all the other men who have reached a respectable age and decided to give up shaving? They all look good and some even look great. Take Hollywood, for instance. The Oscars are coming up soon. You will see a profusion of beards on the male stars – all for the wrong reasons. At least my beard – if it survives the criticism and grows up, will be there for a good reason – I’ve earned it!
One of the tough things about grandchildren is that you are stuck with them. This little guy has not only reminded me every time we met for the past year that my 80th birthday is coming up, he is now branching out into other questions as the full implication sinks in. Like if this is the 80th, Pop, there must have been others, right?
“Gee, Pop, you have had 79 other birthdays! Can you remember them all?”
Should I tell him that sometimes I have a problem remembering his name?
“I can remember a few but not the ones when I was very young, like you.”
“Tell me about one of them, Pop.”
“We went on a cruise on a big ship out to sea. That was a great birthday.”
“And another one?”
Is he going to say hat 78 more times? “The whole family went out to dinner to a nice restaurant. We ate and drank and there was a big cake at the end. We had a great time.”“What are you going to do this time, Pop?”
“We are all going out to dinner together. You are coming too, right?”
“Are you going to have more birthdays, Pop?”
“I hope so!” He’s going to ask how many more, I bet you.
“I hope so too, Pop!”
“How many have you had? I pull the old switcheroo on him.
“Um, I’m 9, Pop.”
“So how many birthdays have you had?”
“Good boy. Wanna go over to the ice- cream shop?”
“You know I do, Pop! Can I ask you a question?”
“Um, okay,” I say without enthusiasm.
“How come you’ve got creases in your ears?”
This, with no apologies to whoever wrote the poem that ends with the above 2 lines – he or she got it right!
Whoever coined the phrase “the Golden Years” clearly never reached his or her Golden Years, (from now on to be written in small letters only). Gold keeps its color and its shine. It doesn’t tarnish or go rusty. It not only maintains its value, it increases in value. No one tosses gold into a waste bin. The golden years are something completely different. They refer to worn out old folks with creaky knees and other parts, some of which have already been replaced. These old folks have lost their shine and their value. They can’t find jobs and worse, they can’t do a whole slew of things which used to come naturally to them. The Golden Years (written with capital letters) refer to the years between about 18 and 50. It’s time someone put things right.
However, there are many things that a Senior Member of society can do to justify his few square feet on the planet. Take writing for instance. A Senior has many memories. Write them down so that one day one of your descendants can read about you and more importantly read about the world you lived in. I have grandchildren who constantly ask me questions like: “Pop, you really had no computers when you were my age?” I want to tell him that we never even had calculators back then and did most of the sums in our heads, but I don’t want him to think I’m a liar…
So these days, we read the papers and books, watch the TV too much, talk a lot, and reminisce about the good old days too much as well. Yep, those were the Golden Years!