When April comes, I get another candle on my cake, a marker of the passage of time. But more than birthdays, it’s that new four-digit number we get in January that emphatically draws my attention with painful precision to where I am along my own personal one-way trail of time.
Come New Years, the contradictory midnight bell tolls the dolorous-happy warning celebration that marks the boundary between the fading memory of thousands of days past and the anticipation of an uncertain score (or thousands–who knows?) of days ahead. New Years Day thunders to me of time passing, birthdays whisper.
In a few months, I’ll start living off the crumbs from under my own table called Social Security. After that, if people ask what I do for a living, I will have to look back to find an answer. I WAS a teacher. I USED TO BE a physical therapist. What will I tell them, looking ahead to 2010?
While much remains shrouded in the fog of that future, I do know this: my life is richer today than it was twenty years ago. Ideas that pique my curiosity and inspired moments in which I feel immersed in the community and land where I am blessed to live right now far exceed those I recall from the blurred high terrain of mid-career.
And here’s the good news: even while my joints and muscles often grumble and complain at the simplest request, I have enough of my senses intact to continue to make me a better human. I have unprecedented knowledge resources at my fingertips; and best of all, I will not, when I trip the odometer at 62, be doomed to intellectual doldrums or decay.
In a sense, I’m “just a boy!” as a spry 90 year old patient told me ten years ago when I admitted to him that I was 52–and felt ancient.
To my age peers I offer this bit of encouragement. A recent New York Times piece called “How to Train an Aging Brain” [http://is.gd/5LKHC]refutes the once-held notion that older brains lose up to 40% of their neurons. Further, it supports the conjecture that new connections between nerve cells–hence, stored information–is by no means destined to stop at retirement age and beyond.
Older brains, while they may forget their glasses, are much more integrative than younger brains, and better at “recognizing the central idea, the big picture. If kept in good shape, the brain can continue to build pathways that help its owner recognize patterns and, as a consequence, see significance and even solutions much faster than a young person can.”
So yes, my future without “a job” will be different than my past. The 2010 calendar won’t be busy with the same routines. My wardrobe will change. Weekends and quitting time will hold nothing for me–nor vacations, for that matter.
While some things become physically harder (running uphill after the dog, climbing ladders, and buttons) or less of a thrill than they once were (winters, large pizzas and birthday cakes) I need not dread being bored and useless at home waiting for my batteries to drain and my cerebral hard drive to fragment and crash.
Looking at the calendar year ahead, there’s plenty of room and time in it to do meaningful work, to play and learn and grow. After all, I’m just a boy!