Mark Jacobs reflects on turning 65 and reinforces the notion that wisdom can come from all ages, including children.
By Mark Jacobs
Age is just a state of mind, at least that’s what Hallmark likes to tell us. I’ve always hated that expression but have been willing to go along with it for the past 20 years or so. At 40, it kind of worked. At 50, it was clearly a fiction, but I clung to it, nonetheless. At 65, however, it’s a mythical pep talk, a silly saying that resembles reality about as much as the tooth fairy.
Sorry, but turning 65 is different. It doesn’t just feel old; it’s officially, government-sanctioned old. It’s Medicare-eligible old, the time to finally figure out the difference between Medicare Plan A and Plan B or to decide when to start collecting Social Security or what medical directives to give in the event of your mental incapacitation. You know, fun stuff like that.
When you’re in your mid-60s, the reminders of your senior status are everywhere. I was watching the American Music Awards and saw Taylor Swift being given the “Musician of the Decade” award. Of course, I know who Taylor Swift is, but I realized that I couldn’t name a single one of her songs. Here she’s supposedly the most influential musician of the whole decade and I don’t even know her music. I used to be the guy who owned hundreds of albums, studied the pop charts and subscribed to Rolling Stone magazine. Now I’m apparently so old that I missed an entire decade of popular music.
Admittedly, my music tastes aren’t exactly contemporary. I’m hopelessly stuck in the bygone era of the ’60s and ’70s. If I’m being honest, I’m just starting to emerge from the ’60s and into the ’70s. (Led Zepplin and Queen, it turns out, were really good! I think they’re going to be big). At this rate, I figure I’ll discover Kelly Clarkston and Britney Spears when I turn about 100, which is fine by me.
I’m learning just how tempting it is to lose our patience as we age. We finally give ourselves a license to do and say what we want, and that can be wonderfully liberating. But it’s also easy — too easy — to become a grumpy old person. I know I have to tolerate people who annoy me, but sometimes I really have to fight the urge to be unkind.
I recently ordered an Uber and the comment section noted that the driver was “a good conversationalist.” That instantly depressed me since I was in no mood for a conversation with anyone. But I didn’t want to be the unfriendly older guy, so when I met the chatty driver I smiled and, sure enough, within minutes I started hearing all about his recent dental surgery. I was captive to his agonizing tale of Novocain and bleeding gums. There was nothing good about the conversation, and I seriously considered quietly opening the rear door and rolling out onto the freeway. But I did learn to be more careful about who I smile at, which, of course, is the first step at full-blown old man grumpiness.
One thing I’ve already learned about turning 65 is the amount of attention you suddenly get from people trying to sell you things. Each year, the 60 million people who are eligible for Medicare can purchase or modify their supplemental coverage, so be prepared to be inundated with salespeople who seem to come out of the woodwork. Their phone calls are constant, with all kinds of clever ways to scare you and grab their share of your wallet. I’ve taken to avoiding all unrecognizable incoming phone calls, something I should’ve started doing years ago.
The AARP emails are also constant, but they don’t bother me. The truth is I’m starting to find them relevant and even oddly interesting. I’m even starting to develop a bit of camaraderie toward those graying, happy AARP folks in the photos. They’re no longer abstract strangers to me, and they’re far more relatable than the silly young celebrities I see on TV or on the Grammy’s. Those AARP folks are becoming my new peeps.
We want to believe that wisdom comes with age, but I know too many older people who disprove that theory. I’m no exception to that although I am starting to accept who I’m not and what I no longer wish to try. It’s my “process of elimination” approach to living. I’m no longer doing lots of things I used to do but no longer enjoy. The list is quickly getting longer and involves everything from snorkeling to sit-ups to going to Detroit Lions games. I look forward to adding many more items to the list in the future.
I recently heard a few Ted Talks that turn the notion of age and wisdom on its head. There are a number of talks from brilliant children with topics ranging from pancreatic cancer to nuclear fusion to advanced programming. One of them, from a 12-year-old child prodigy named Adora Svitzak, is titled “What Adults Can Learn From Children” and has been viewed by 5.5 million people. These videos remind us that wisdom comes in all ages, and there is much that adults can learn from the big, bold and creative dreams of children.
So as much as I want to make conclusions about wisdom and aging, the only thing I know for sure is that the search never ends, no matter how old one gets. The writer Percy Seitland once wrote, “A man of 97, unless he’s a fool, has no message.” I’m not sure if that’s a depressing message about ignorance or a positive one about acceptance.
My plan is to make that assessment for myself on my 97th birthday. Preparing for that day is the gift I’m giving myself on this momentous birthday.
Mark Jacobs is the AIPAC Michigan chair for African American Outreach and co-director of the Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity.