Okay, I’m going to tell you something about myself: I’m not exactly what they used to call a “spring chicken.” Far from it. In fact, today (October 1) is a big birthday for me. I’m turning 65.
When I was in my twenties, I never thought I’d see 50—the turn of the century. My God! That concept was incredible: that I would live to 50. I suppose most people in their twenties can’t imagine 30 years into the future. Everything is so immediate. Everything has to be done now, now, now. Me, get old? Nah!
And now here I am, an official senior citizen. Actually I prefer the term elder because I don’t feel so senior (well except maybe some parts of my body feel older, but that’s mostly because I suffer from injuries I endured in a car accident in my twenties. Joints tend to go bad from wear and tear, and mine just happen to have deteriorated a lot faster…c’est la vie).
People tell me that I’m not really quite “normal” for someone my age. I suppose it’s because of the career path I chose: that is, to work around and with younger people. How anyone can hang out only with people of their own age group is beyond me. I think about the “elder elders” in assisted living and nursing homes (shudder) and wonder how they can bear being around only people from their own age cohort. It’s gotta be boring.
I suppose the thing that keeps me thinking young is the fact that I work with (and for) people who are young enough to be my children and grandchildren. Sometimes it amazes me that they actually know quite a bit more about life than I do. Experience in human behavior can do that to you—make you feel superior to kids. Not necessarily so!
But, unfortunately in many civilized countries, and particularly in America, the experience and wisdom of elders is disregarded and even derided. Personally, I think age adds so much to the person: stories and emotional experiences abound. I’m pretty curious about everything, and that’s probably what keeps me “young at heart” (wow, am I full of clichés, but bear with me; I’m now an old broad). How could one not be curious about what’s happened to those people who’ve lived a lot longer than you? Who have experienced so much more life?
I was talking to a friend of mine who is 90, and in the Navy during WWII. He was telling me about Okinawa and the “human torpedoes” the Japanese were using at the time of that battle. He and his fellow officers were really wondering how they were going to combat these kamikaze-type weapons. I didn’t even realize that these existed. The closest thing I’d ever experienced were the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11.
The Battle of Okinawa was so fierce that about 200,000+ people died (counting civilians and soldiers on both sides). Incredible. While my friend and his comrades were scared to death that they couldn’t find a way to combat the kamikaze torpedoes, the US dropped the atomic bomb. Solved that problem, I guess. But it’s just something I learned from listening to someone who was my elder.
Some of the best relationships I’ve had since starting OffBeat have been with older musicians: Tommy Ridgley, Eddie Bo, Harold Battiste, Jr., Frankie Ford, Irma Thomas and so many more.
An enhanced perception of the continuity of New Orleans music (and Louisiana music, for that matter) strikes you when you get to know the youngsters, the up-and-comers, and also interact with people who have been on the scene and who’ve played for years and years. It puts the music spectrum in a different perspective. Most of us tend to get stuck in our little age-specific bubbles, feel comfortable there, and don’t explore music, attitudes and changes in technology that can broaden our horizons, keep us curious and open to the new and different.
I hope I’ll always be able to break through the bubble wall, learn from the old, apply it to the new; be open to teaching from those who are younger than me and stay open and fresh.
That, my dear readers, is the secret of staying young, even at 65.