Thursday, December 21, 2006

Having Turned 60

Now that I'm sixty, I've been having these off and on times of feeling somewhat overwhelmed with the reality of it. Wow, I'm really sixty - almost as though something's supposed to happen; I don't know, like maybe I'll all of a sudden become decrepit, or senile, or something. It's strange. Almost like I'm now living in uncharted territory.

Last month a couple of my co-workers had a birthday party for me. It was held in a nightclub on a Saturday afternoon. We had cake and (I had) marguerita's. Since it was a nightclub you could drink anything you wanted.

The Club Caravan in Revere, on Saturday afternoons, holds jazz sessions. Professors, current and retired, from the Berklee School of Music perform at the Club. We were literally treated by the excellent music these folks played. There was even a singer who went through several standards. I'm not sure what goes on at the Club in the evenings but Saturday afternoons are worth going for.

My kids and grandchild came up to Boston for the weekend and for the party. It was very enjoyable having them; we had a good weekend. The time went by in a blur, however, and it seemed that just as soon as they had landed at Logan they were again taking off.

A couple of weeks ago I went to see the surgeon for my final post-surgery visit. I received good news and am now able to resume any and all activity. He doesn't want to see me for a year. So I joined a fitness center and am getting back in shape, so to speak.

Julie and I joined the 16 week program. I think that's a promotional to get people in the door, because the place wants you to sign a two year contract. The only way to get out of the contract is to move more than 25 miles away, lose your job or die. I guess the idea behind the 16 week program is to get you into the place, get hooked on fitness and then not feel so bad about signing the contract.

I've been running on the treadmill, going around the circuit, taking yoga, and staying away from the free weights. I want to get back to wearing a speedo, not looking like Charles Atlas(t). As if.

I just read two articles related to aging that I found inspirational. One was on mental exercise and the other on physical exercise. It seems that keeping your mind active, learning new things, working on complex problems and otherwise remaining intellectually stimulated actually wards off dementia and may slow down the onset of Alzheimer's. Fortunately the latter doesn't run in my family so I hope to be able to remember who I am, at least, for my whole life.

Physical exercise, 45 minutes a day forever, also wards off the effects of aging. Not just taking walks, but vigorous exercise. So, I go to the gym 3 - 4 days a week and walk in between. Close enough.

Now that I'm 60 I have to take care of myself. I hope I'm not starting too late. On the other hand, being old is a state of mind.

Friday, December 01, 2006

This I Believe

I believe in the changing wind, how it feels against my face, cool and damp and refreshing. I know when I feel that certain wind that the weather is going to change. I know it just as I know I changed while feeling it standing at the bow of a ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

From the changing wind I learned how to find a sense of inner-understanding and self- awareness through the taking of its fury, no matter how it hard it raged or how long it lasted or how death-threatening it seemed to be. I learned to face the wind.

At age nineteen, disconsolate and adrift, I left home for the first time in my life and went to sea as a merchant seaman. When I returned almost a year later, I was maybe not quite yet a man but I was certainly no longer a boy. At sea I learned about life and also about death but mostly I learned about finishing what I’d started.

Knees flexed for balance, night after night I rode the nose of the ship in the rising and falling rhythms of the ocean’s waves, tasting the salt water and feeling its spray in my face, my hair blowing in the wind.

I watched and became one with the dolphins that swam alongside, joyfully jumping over and through the wave the ships’ bow cut in the water. I looked down at the phosphorescence and imagined it as white jewels sparkling against the green of the ocean.

Looking up into the night I could see primary, secondary and tertiary stars spread out like diamonds on black velvet. Shooting stars streaked across the sky, their trails much like the phosphorescence below me fading away in the night just as it was from the bows’ wave.

Many times I stood there, transfixed, not looking for any obstructions in the path of the ship in the middle of the ocean, but standing in awe of the vastness all around me. The ship, over 400 feet long, was tiny and insignificant in comparison. When the wind changed and the weather
worsened, sometimes to hurricane force, I understood how easy it was, in the maelstrom, to just give up and let the ocean’s depths claim another soul.

In those moments when I learned to sense the change, I learned that no matter how hard things got, no matter how crazy and out of control life became, I learned to not be a quitter. Just as the wind changed the weather for the worse, it also brought change for the better. Nothing stays the same forever.

The reality of riding out the storm also became a metaphor for growing up. I came to learn, standing on the bow of that ship, to believe in myself.