WHAT THE HELL

Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

À la recherche du temps perdu

 The ’57 T-Bird, c’est moi.

This New York Times essay about turning 60 really hits home right now. The writer says she still feels 22, which seems about right. I’m going to turn 65 next spring, and I’d say I’m somewhere in my mid-twenties in my head. Maybe it’s cruel of nature to do that to us, but hell, I’d rather have it this way than to feel like I look.

One thing getting older does to your head, though, is make you glad you’re not young today. My wife and I are always cringing at the trouble that lies ahead for so many younger people we know. The climate. The economy. Mass surveillance. Fascism. Society has so many seismic faults and ominous flash points that the future is almost certainly going to dish out some severe punishment. We won’t be here for the worst of it. Like the writer of the piece calls it—the calamity.

Good luck, kids!

Getting older also gifts us a perspective that most people aren’t privy to when they’re younger. It might seem obvious, but things happened before you were born. Your parents were well aware of things that you only learned about in your forties. (The government gave out free cheese to the poor in 1981!) They also know things about you that either slipped your mind or you were too young to remember. Most of all, it finally hits you somewhere along the way that there are no guarantees to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Society works on communal agreement, and in any given decade the odds are that someone somewhere is going to pull out of the treaty. We’re seeing it now. It’s been building for a long time. Here we were (my generation) floating along on some of the safest seas ever known to humans—post-WWII America—and suddenly it’s more than clear that we were just damn lucky.

Surging into your mid-sixties tells you, too, that your brain’s been driving a vintage car all these years and it’s starting to show some wear and tear. Mine’s a ’57—a Thunderbird, I’d like to think—but the undercarriage is rusting out and the suspension is like Jell-O. I spent two nights in the hospital this year, so I’m going to get this thing restored and detailed and hope that I can coax a few thousand more miles out of it.

You also realize that everyone is a person of their own time. And everyone loves their own time, even if it’s the ‘80s. I feel lucky to have been alive when Bertrand Russell and T. S. Eliot and Dorothy Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane and Salvador Dali and Carl Jung and Picasso and Diego Rivera (just barely), and Sylvia Plath and Igor Stravinsky and Billie Holiday still walked the Earth. And Beatlemania swept the world, and the Apollo mission to the moon came to fruition, and the War in Vietnam ended, and the country celebrated its 200th year with something bordering on optimism. And I loved Creeple People and Stingray bikes and Super Balls and Jonny Quest, Batman, Lost in Space, Kurt Vonnegut, and Lulu singing “To Sir With Love,” exploring deep wild woods that would later become subdivisions, watching the Gateway Arch being built, crying over Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, standing in line for tickets to see The Who’s Quadrophenia tour, buying new records for $5.02 with tax, and falling asleep to Side 2 of Abbey Road more nights than I can count. [For younger folks, Side 2 begins with “Here Comes the Sun.”]

I understand whole generations who plug other names and incidents into those slots, because we’re all talking about the same feelings. We’re anchored in overlapping layers of time, and we coexist because of that overlap and the sense of continuity that helps us relate to one another across time.

My mother is now 86, and she’s vital but very tired. Yet, I know she still feels young in her head because she shoots memories at me like Nerf balls, like the time she and some friends went to see the actor Rory Calhoun at a St. Louis theater and waited outside the stage door to get a look at him afterwards. And she actually saw him up close, so close she could almost smell him, and she swooned over that killer smile of his and the dashing widow’s peak, and she knew right then that she’d never forget it.

[Image via Mustang Joe, Creative Commons License.]

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9 comments on “À la recherche du temps perdu

  1. justdrivewillyou
    November 8, 2021

    I’m 62 myself, so I’m pretty much right there with you, in terms of memories and “mileage.” And I, too, am glad I’m not young, now. I hope the kids can figure out what we never could seem to about living with each other other and our planet.

    • Kevin Brennan
      November 8, 2021

      It never ceases to amaze me that human nature defeats human intelligence every step of the way. Maybe we’re wrong to fear the robots taking over? 😉

      • justdrivewillyou
        November 8, 2021

        Well, they couldn’t do any worse, could they? 🤔

  2. Pamela Beckford
    November 8, 2021

    You and I are just a few months apart in age. Mostly I love being my age and living through the times I have lived through – but, like you, my body doesn’t always cooperate.

    • Kevin Brennan
      November 8, 2021

      I hear you. It’s weird how the body is capable of surprising you with something new and exciting almost every day of the week. Fun growing up in the ’60s though, right? 😎

  3. loristory
    November 9, 2021

    I enjoyed your post, as usual, as well as the NYT article you linked to. Here are a few random thoughts of my own, ones that just popped out of my 72-year-old-feels-like-22-year-old brain: On the one hand, I liked what that writer said about sorrow being a poor response in the face of good fortune. I’m going to try to remember that. On the other hand, I bristled when she said that decades of hard work can pay off in the end. Easy for her to say, an accomplished NYT writer. Hard for me to say, someone who received 4 rejections in my email this week! But then she also said that rejection almost always bears no relationship to worth, and that the pandemic should have taught us what really matters. I need to keep both of those sentiments in mind. When I was 22 I never thought this deeply. I guess that’s another bright side of living as long as I have! Here’s to your upcoming spring birthday, and may we both stay forever young.

    • Kevin Brennan
      November 9, 2021

      Thanks, Lori. Glad you liked the post. I’m with you on the “hard work” thing. I think that’s something successful people say to explain their good luck. Because at this age, I’m able to see now how important luck is across the board. And like you, I know I didn’t think terribly deeply at 22 though sometimes I gave it a go for a while. 😉

      Don’t forget: Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you, if … 🎵🎵

  4. Rachel McAlpine
    February 9, 2022

    You make a good point: that the kind of old age we face varies hugely depending on when we turn 60 (or 70 or 82).It’s your first time being 60– but the experience of being 60 varies hugely according to the era. Our 60 is very different from our parents’ 62. Yours happens in a different world from mine, 20 years earlier.

    • Kevin Brennan
      February 9, 2022

      I agree completely, Rachel. I think the world and cultures change so quickly that the experience of being any age is different in each period. That’s why it’s easy for me to say, “I wouldn’t want to be thirty now!”

      Thanks for visiting.

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