Posts Tagged ‘growing old’

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The Hourglass

October 19, 2015

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“The more sand that has escaped from the hourglass of our life, the clearer we should see through it.” ― Jean-Paul Sartre

Seeing one’s life clearly is never an easy task, even as the passing years mount. I have entered a period of deep reflection brought on by the startling deaths of two friends and furthered by my recent birthday. Both of these heightened my awareness of mortality, and both prompted thoughts about my own life.

So today on this Evaluate Your Life Day, I shall attempt to do that in some small way.

My life has been that of a teacher. It has been my calling and passion for as long as I can remember and my reality since I have been an adult. But when I look back, I dwell on my shortcomings, and I am often filled with regret by thoughts of my failures and disappointment over what I should have done differently or better, even if those things were in actuality beyond my ability to change.

I think back to my Peace Corps days in the Philippines walking through the abject poverty of the slums of Manila and the outstretched needy hands I walked by, the total destruction of the typhoons that swept through the islands with little help forthcoming while I had a safe place to be and food to eat, the bare schoolhouses in the barrios filled with children who lived with no electricity or running water that I was supposed to be helping. I walked through the village in which I lived knowing that my $75 a month salary made me the richest person there. I should have done more.

I think of my early years teaching in Newark, thirty-five kids before me in the classroom with a dearth of materials, an idealistic young teacher knowing the bleak path that lay before so many of those wide-eyed youngsters living in tenements where often several children slept in the same bed, no desk at which to study, no books on a shelf to read, surrounded by alcohol, drugs, and violence. I found myself in a war against disadvantage and poverty. I should have battled longer.

I think of those students in Rutherford who I did not reach, the athletes on the teams I coached that I failed to help, the colleagues with whom I worked that I might have done more for. I think of the times I could have shown more patience, better judgment, a cooler head, or simple kindness but did not. I should have tried harder.

I feel the weight of each person I let down, and I am ashamed.

But in the wake of the recent death of my good friend and on the day of my birthday I received some wonderful messages from former students. I am grateful to them for their kind words for they lifted my spirits at a time when I needed it, and they filled my heart. I think they helped give me a perspective of my own life in a way that I could never do on my own.

One of them spoke of the common phenomenon of carrying things unsaid inside and how it sometimes takes drastic circumstances to finally articulate them. I understand this, for I have done it far too often myself.

On the occasion of my retirement, I wrote a letter in which I did articulate many of the unsaid things I kept within me through all my years of teaching. I repeat them now for they remain true, and though they may not be the evaluation I find so difficult to make even as the sand continues to escape my hourglass, they lay bare my ideals and the standards I held for myself. I can only hope I lived up to them at least some of the time.

Here is what I had — and still have — to say:

I have always felt unable to evaluate myself as a teacher or what I had or had not accomplished. I don’t know for sure what I did, but I do know what I wanted.

In my classroom I wanted to be Hendrix, Coltrane, Picasso. I wanted to be Holden Caulfield protecting children from harm as they wandered in their reverie too close to the edge of the cliff, to protect the vulnerable and the innocent and relieve the pain that circumstance so often has inflicted upon them. I wanted to disperse the tenderness of those who give comfort in times of need.

I wanted my students to recognize the power, the beauty, the joy, the mystery of language. I wanted them to understand that those weren’t just words on a page, the drudgery of the school kid’s routine, but were the wisdom, the experience, the heart and spirit of another human being and that somewhere out there exists a story or poem or novel or play that will reach into them and shake their very souls. I wanted them to know that the sometimes seemingly futile search is worth it.

I wanted them to be exposed to writing of all sizes, shapes, and origins beyond those contained within school books, to know that there is a sea of possibility beyond the horizon they are used to. I wanted them to meet and come to know Atticus and Jem and Scout, Romeo and Juliet, Buddy and his dear old cousin not just as answers to trivia questions but as beings that exist within them.

I wanted those who sat before me to open their eyes, see the world as it was, as it is, as it might be. I wanted them to recognize that improving one’s own skills in the art of using our wonderful, wacky language will contribute to the ability to express the unique and invaluable perspectives of what they see.

I wanted school not to be fear and boredom, but enlightenment, acceptance, and in those best of times, magic. I wanted to be of service to others, to be useful, to make some kind of difference in this life.

And I still do.

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Darkness

June 30, 2014

Darkness has descended upon Raven. The blindness came on suddenly, though the causes had no doubt been building to this end for quite some time. Diabetic glaucoma was the diagnosis, and now poor Raven can’t see.

Raven is a thirteen year old Shiba Inu, an ancient Japanese hunting breed which looks like a smaller version of an Akita. He belongs to our old friends Felix and Joan. Not that long ago we spent time with them at their place in upstate New York, and of course Raven was there. He seemed fine, though not quite as spry as he had once been back when his housemate Hunter was around. I just saw him again, now in his new and unfamiliar situation, and it was heartbreaking.

Joan and Felix’s daughter was getting married out on Long Island. In spite of past experiences of nightmarish traffic on the Long Island Expressway, we left in what we thought was sufficient time; after all, it was early in the afternoon. What we didn’t factor in were several accidents, the perpetual construction, and people leaving work extra early on a beautiful June Friday heading out for a weekend of fun in the sun and sand. Three hours later, we arrived at the church, ceremony over, just as the last cars were pulling out to leave.

Since the reception would not be not until seven o’clock, Joan had kindly invited us to hang out at her home with some relatives in the interim. We arrived at the same time as Felix’s ninety-four year old dad. I sat on the porch with him chatting for a bit; he is a most interesting man, eager to tell his stories of years gone by. He had been in the Italian Army during World War II. After being captured, he found himself in a prisoner of war camp in North Africa, the very same one where my father-in-law had been stationed. The son of an Italian immigrant, my father-in-law became the camp’s interpreter. We often wonder if the two hadn’t met there all those years ago.

My wife ushered me inside to be introduced to other family members. Feeling out of place amidst the bustle of activity there, I wandered outside to enjoy the peacefulness of Felix’s backyard. As I walked towards a lounge chair under the shade of a tree, I saw Raven lying on the grass near the pool. I didn’t disturb him in his repose; he’d come over to me in good time to communicate his hello.

Soon Raven stirred and got up. He began walking very slowly along the low wire fence along the poolside. I wondered about the deliberateness with which he proceeded and about the wire fence, the type usually used as a border to gardens rather than by a pool. Raven circled around, now heading toward the patio area where I sat. A stone fire pit stood in the path between us, and he bumped into it head-on. As he then cautiously made his way around it, I first noticed the cloudiness in his eyes. He sniffed the air and took the final few steps to my chair where he nuzzled the hand that I offered. He didn’t look at me but rather past me, and it struck me then that he must be blind.

I watched Raven for quite a while. He would walk in this deliberate manner in ever-widening circles around the patio where I sat, stopping frequently to sniff, occasionally bumping into objects around the yard. It became clear that this exploration was purposeful. Raven needed to map out his old territory anew to accommodate his sightlessness. This old dog was indeed learning a new trick, one that would now be essential for him.

Once at the reception hall, Joan and Felix told us that this had occurred just this past week. The vet confirmed what they already suspected. What would happen next had not yet been decided.

The reception was wonderful, the beautiful bride and the smiling groom basking in the glory of their special day. Felix delivered the best toast I’ve ever heard with verve and both his characteristic humor and heartfelt love. Joan was a most gracious host, glowing in her sparkling gown as she mingled amongst her friends and family. The food was terrific, but as the music played on and the guests danced the night away, my thoughts kept drifting back to Raven.

Aging inevitably brings challenges to members of all our families, both human and canine. These are not easy to deal with in either case. I know those who don’t have animals that are part of their lives will find this hard to understand. Those who do know exactly how hard it is. Watching Raven that afternoon tugged at my heart, and I couldn’t help but think of the dogs in my own life. Like them, he has been a faithful companion to his family for a long time. Hopefully with their love and care, in spite of the darkness that has descended upon him Raven will be able to live out the rest of his days in happiness.

 

 

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Three Score and Five

October 16, 2013

I just turned sixty-five. My thoughts veered crazily from “It’s just another day” to “How can this possibly be?!?”

Sixty-five. That’s old folk territory. Or it least it used to be when I myself was younger. Now I subscribe to the revisionist positions such as “sixty-five is the new forty.” It’s all about perspective. One learns such nuggets of wisdom when one is old.

I spent some time reflecting on those things I no longer do. Running is one of those things. The combination of age and injuries brought an end to a decades-long ritual that became an integral and fulfilling part of my existence. I miss it. I no longer write with anywhere near the frequency I once did, not e-mails to friends or stories on this blog. I’m not sure why that is. I’m no longer part of the teaching career which filled my being for my entire adult life. I miss the vibrance of the kids and the daily camaraderie of my colleagues (though, after hearing their stories lately, not the ever-increasing bureaucratic burdens).

But there are abundant blessings for which I am thankful that more than balance those absences. My wonderful friends who in spite of my periods of disappearance keep me in their fold. My new students, adult immigrants who are invisible to most but who have become a part of my life. The ability to still get out and about to enjoy the beauty which permeates this world. I now walk several miles almost every day; slowing down does have the advantage of being able to see things more clearly. Most of all my loving wife who has now shared the last forty years together with me in spite of my many shortcomings.

The sun shone brightly on the morning of my initial day of sixty-five. This was the first of many gifts . Birthday wishes from friends old and new arrived on my Facebook page. Juan Carlos and Lili and Sofia called to give me their lilting greetings. Bernadette and I enjoyed breakfast out at our favorite spot followed by a walk in the crisp air and falling leaves of the changing season. I checked my e-mail to find the latest story by Faith, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand who has become my online friend. Her beautiful words washed over me like the scent of lavender orchids that surrounded her. Whitey and Gigi, our friendly neighborhood cats, came up on the deck to visit, a reminder of the small pleasures that are often overlooked in the bustle of everyday routine.

This gave rise to a larger reflection on my life. Looking back, I wonder where the time has gone, whether that time has been well spent, whether my deeds have had any real meaning. I think every life is like a pebble thrown into the water. The ripples of its impact move outward in circles. The pebble sinks to the bottom, but the ripples continue on their own, spreading ever outward far beyond the point from which they began.

I think of something Faith had written: “…this life is precious. So let it take you, let the days surround you and let the minutes define you as you recognize that those minutes and those days, they are all you really have. They will fly by you, so don’t waste them. Work to understand, and learn to accept. Laugh and love those around you. Try today — try right now — to be the person you always said you would be.”

I don’t know where all the ripples of my life have gone, who or what they may have affected. I hope it was more for the good than not. But my soul will rest peacefully as my pebble settles into the silt if it can be said of me that I did indeed try to be the person I always said I would be.

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Red House

April 28, 2013

Red House

He’s the old man

inside the red house,

ninety-four now

and alone.

.

He’s tucked away

within those red walls,

white beard flowing,

growing long.

.

Spends the time up

in his old bedroom,

all around him

photographs.

.

One of Lisa

who had just left him,

echoes of her

laughter fresh.

.

One of Rita,

gone now for decades

though her spirit

lingers still.

.

And there’s one of

his sweet youngest son,

dead at fourteen;

broke his heart.

.

I go over,

bring him some brownies,

take the garbage

out at night,

.

Listen to him

tell all the stories

of his life in

days gone by.

.

And sometimes when

I’m leaving him, he

says good-bye my

Baby Boy.

.

He’s the old man

inside the red house,

ninety-four now,

and alone.

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Microwave Blues (Dedicated to the memory of Lisa Walsh Chesloff)

March 10, 2013

Growing old isn’t easy. Even the simplest of actions can take on an additional dimension of obstacle or burden. That seems like it should be obvious enough, but it has become reinforced for me since I have been helping out my elderly neighbors across the street, Arnold and Lisa. I am thinking about it even more today, for Lisa has just left this life.

Arnold is coping. He is ninety-four. He has survived cancer and the deaths of a young son and his first wife, so he has experience in that area. We just walked over to visit with him, bringing brownies that my wife made (his favorite) and condolences. We asked if he needed anything. He said no, he was fine. As I left, I looked around at all the things that were reminders of Lisa, and I wondered.

There are many reminders for me as well. I had become quite familiar with Lisa since Arnold fell and broke a vertebrae in his neck two Christmases ago. His mobility became severely limited. Lisa, who suffered from several incapacitating conditions herself, became his caretaker. Whenever she needed assistance, I became her “knight in shining armor,” as she put it. Lisa would call and ask me to pick up their many prescriptions at the pharmacy, and since she had a sweet tooth, side stops for Dots or Lifesavers became commonplace. Taking out the garbage and recycling twice a week became part of my routine. Once inside their house, Lisa always had many small chores that needed tending to.

I would often drive them to doctor appointments and medical tests. These undertakings required considerable time. The only  means to get downstairs from their bedroom was a shaky spiral stairway. I would gingerly spot them as they slowly made their way down. We then had to navigate our way through the narrow garage, and getting them both into the car frequently proved to be a harrowing ordeal. After I loaded their walkers into the trunk, there would be a final checking and rechecking of necessary items — garage door opener, cell phone, water bottle, medical identification information — which usually resulted in a trip back inside for a forgotten item. But in spite of all the logistical problems, they enjoyed these trips, for it was basically the only time they got out of the house. Lisa would chat away in the car, Arnold joining in occasionally, his hearing difficulties accounting for some unintentionally humorous exchanges. Once at the doctor’s office or hospital, more tricky maneuvers with the walkers ensued until we situated ourselves in the waiting room, Lisa insisting I sit right by her side.

I have fond memories of Lisa during this time, many of them lighthearted in spite of the duress of her situation. One particular experience still makes me chuckle every time I think of it.

Late one afternoon the phone rang, and it was Lisa sounding a bit desperate.

“Lisa, what’s the matter?”

“Oh, Donald, it’s my microwave. It’s not working. I don’t know what to do. I have to get supper ready for Arnold.”

“Okay, Lisa, I’ll be right over.”

I went over and took a look at the microwave. It was a monstrous old hulk of a thing, a Litton from years ago, and it indeed showed no signs of life. Since Lisa could no longer lift pots and pans to cook on the stove, the microwave had become essential to their existence. She needed to go buy a replacement.

“Okay, Lisa, where would you like to go?”

“Bed Bath and Beyond!” was her immediate response.

“Uh, I’m not so sure they have much in the way of microwaves, Lisa.”

“I’m sure they do,” she replied. “Besides, I like that store.”  So the process began of getting Lisa and her walker into my car and driving off to find a new microwave.

During the ride to Springfield, Lisa told me she wanted the same kind of microwave and that she didn’t want to spend too much. This didn’t look promising. I explained that they probably didn’t even make Littons anymore, and that prices of appliances had gone up.

“Well, all right, but it has to at least be the same size.”

Once at the store, I got the walker and Lisa out, but the ramp that led to the entrance proved to be too steep for her to handle.

“Wait here, Lisa. I’ll run in and check it out.”

I found a sales guy who looked like he would rather be anyplace else on earth rather than working in Bed Bath and Beyond. I asked him where I could find a microwave.

“Microwave?” he asked with a puzzled look. “Do we even carry them?”

I told him I was sure I didn’t know, so he directed me several aisles over to look in the kitchen section. There I found another salesperson. I asked again.

“Yes, but we only carry one model, and we’re out of it.” Wonderful.

I returned to Lisa and relayed this news, subduing any hint of “I told you so” that might in other circumstances have crept into my voice. I suggested we drive to Maplewood to the mall where both Home Depot and Target were located. She agreed, and I got her and the walker back into the car just as the sun began setting.

I pulled into the parking lot in front of Home Depot. Since it was getting late, I had Lisa wait in the car while I did some consumer reconnaissance. The Home Depot had a decent selection, but nothing special. I sprinted over to Target and into the appliance department. There I saw it.  A Panasonic, same capacity as the old Litton, and on sale to boot! Perfect!

I ran back to the car and drove up to the Target entrance, got the walker, and helped Lisa out. I quickly parked and escorted her into the store.

Now, this particular Target is the size of three football fields, so getting Lisa over to see the Perfect Microwave was no small task. Plus she kept stopping to look at other items along the way.

“Oh, these gloves look nice, don’t they?”

“Uh, yeah, Lisa, they do, but we really need to move along here.” It seemed that Lisa had found a new favorite store.

We arrived at the appropriate aisle, and I showed her the Panasonic.

“See? Same capacity as the old one. And it’s on sale.”

“Oh, good! Let’s get it!”

Both of us felt quite relieved as we drove home. Once back at the house, I had to remove the old microwave and take it outside for disposal. I tried to lift it, but it wouldn’t budge. A quick look underneath revealed the reason. Twenty years of caked up grime had fastened the old Litton like cement. A good deal of prying and grunting followed, but I finally freed it. Carrying it out turned out to be another Herculean chore, for the thing weighed a ton. That done and the counter reasonably cleaned, the project seemed about to be finished.

Not so fast. The power cord from the Panasonic was situated on the side farthest from the outlet which was behind the refrigerator. It would not reach. Not to worry, I told Lisa. I had a three-pronged extension at home.

As I rushed in the door, my wife, who by now had prepared supper, asked if I had finally finished.

“Not quite,”  is all I managed as I hustled back out with the extension.

Back across the street, the connection reached successfully, and the last step began: instructing Lisa on the use of the new microwave. I showed her how to set the power and the time and turn it on. I repeated the demonstration several times. She tried it. Nope, not quite.

“Well,” I said, “all you have to do is follow the instruction manual.”

“No,” she replied frowning, “I can never understand those darn things. Just show me again.”

Fifteen minutes later, she thought she had it. I returned home for my now-cold supper. Part way through my pasta, the phone rang. Lisa again.

“Donald, something’s wrong. I tried to heat up the meal, but it isn’t going, and a light keeps flashing.”

“OK, I’ll be right there.” My wife just rolled her eyes.

She showed me what she had done, and I pointed out that she had mistakenly hit the “child lock” button instead of the “on” button. I showed her again how to do it correctly and prepared to leave once their meal was spinning merrily in the now-functioning Panasonic.

“Oh, Donald, what would I do without my knight in shining armor?” Sigh.

Several weeks later when I went to get the garbage, Lisa told me there was a problem with the microwave. I thought perhaps a refresher lesson was in order.

“No, it’s not that. I don’t like the way it opens. The old one you didn’t have to pull open. And besides, I can’t see the buttons. I think we should return it.”

“Lisa, I really don’t think you can return it now. Let’s see what we can do.”

Not seeing the buttons turned out to be the result of poor kitchen lighting because of a small wattage bulb, easy enough to remedy. I slid the microwave closer to the edge of the counter to change the arm angle needed to pull it open. Lisa didn’t seem convinced, but she never brought it up again. I assumed all was well since subsequent dinners reached Arnold sufficiently heated, so that was the end of the microwave blues. It is just one of the many memories that will stay with me.

In Harper Lee’s masterpiece To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout said, “Neighbors bring food with death and flowers with sickness and little things in between.” Lisa always let me know how much she appreciated those “little things in between.” I hope she knew how much I appreciated those things that made her who she was, her undying love for Arnold, her can-do attitude in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, her indomitable spirit. Although her passing brings us sadness, I choose to remember her with joy. I will continue to go over and help Arnold as much as I can, and I’m sure he will share many of his stories of her with me. People become a part of you, and they stay a part of you even after their departure. Lisa became a part of me as I did of her, and I celebrate her memory because of that.

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When I’m Sixty-Four

October 7, 2012

“When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now…” This line is from the famous Beatles song “When I’m Sixty-four” which came out in 1967. I was nineteen years old at the time. It is 2012, and I am just days from sixty-four, so the “many years from now” part no longer applies. What once was inconceivable has come to pass.

Sixty-four. How could this possibly be?

Oscar Wilde once said, “The tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is young.” I think I know what he meant. When I look out upon the world, I do not see a balding, gray-haired old guy, for inside I am still the me that always was, just with more experience and hopefully some additional wisdom. Whenever I see photos of my high school classmates, I think to myself, “Man, does he look old!” not thinking of myself in that way. But each time I look in the mirror, I am forced to face the shocking reality: I, too, am old.

One piece of wisdom on which I still need to work is that which Henri Frederic Amiel voiced so well: “To know how to grow old is the master-work of wisdom, and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living.” I am finding this out first-hand; aging gracefully is a far more challenging pursuit than I had thought.

Lately I think I often act like a cantankerous old coot in spite of that ever-youthful internal image I continue to entertain. I can no longer run because my knees and hip object quite adamantly. Watching Saturday Night Live is out of the question, or if I do manage to attempt it, I am snoring on the couch by the end of the opening monologue. This same guy who got as close to the stage as possible at CBGB to listen to Richard Hell and the Voidoids now had to retreat to the back of the balcony at the Wellmont because he couldn’t handle the volume of The National. My lifelong role as a teacher has changed radically from a full-time professional to a part-time volunteer. I get senior citizen fare on NJ Transit. Well, okay, that last one isn’t so hard to take. But these changes snuck up on me, and what once seemed slow and almost imperceptible is now quite obvious and unavoidable. But in spite of this, I cannot ignore this ageless me that dwells within.

Several of my closest friends are in the same leaky boat as I. Recently I burned a CD mix for one of them (at least I am still conversant in that arena) composed of pivotal songs, benchmarks along the way of our many years together. Though several of the artists I included met their untimely demise before their time (Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones), many others such as Neil Young, Lou Reed, Elvis Costello, Patti Smith, David Byrne, Bob Dylan, and of course Bruce are still out there, vital and creative to this day despite their years.

I think of my father, too. When he was sixty-four, I was twenty-eight. He had arthritis and a heart condition, but he and I put a new roof on my house (or rather, I helped him put it on; he did twice what I could manage). The clear conclusion: age in itself is not necessarily the obstacle some (me?) make it out to be.

I had a difficult time deciding on which Neil Young song to put on that CD for my friend. It turned out to be “Hey Hey My My (Into the Black).” I’m not sure whether or not my subconscious meant to slip in a subliminal subversive message by including lyrics that proclaim, “It’s better to burn out that it is to rust,” though I choose to content myself with the idea that rust is not necessarily an aspect of age but rather disuse. As I long as I make myself useful in some way, I’ll at least retain my immunity to that particular fate.

I prefer to focus on a different line in the song which says, “There’s more to the picture than meets the eye.” Although the picture may only look like that of a sixty-four year old man to most, perhaps it really does contain more than meets the eye. Look inside for a bit. Just maybe you’ll see a glimpse of that young guy still in there.

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Dancing in the Dark

September 20, 2012

Two significant and wholly unexpected incidents occurred this week. One involved a rock concert and the other a You Tube video sent to me by a former student. As it happens once in a great while, this confluence of events led to an epiphany.

During the spring, my wife Bernadette announced her desire to go to the Bruce Springsteen concert at the Meadowlands. Since her birthday is in May, I figured this was a perfect opportunity to kill those two proverbial birds with one stone. However, since I am rather a dinosaur in such matters, I did not know exactly how to go about purchasing tickets to such an event. Since my experience is firmly lodged in the days of the Fillmore East ticket window or free concerts in Central Park where one simply showed up, I bungled the operation and could not obtain them. My eventual present proved quite lame in comparison to What Could Have Been.

However, I received a reprieve when the announcement came that extra shows would be added in the fall. Armed with information from a friend-in-the-know, I got tickets for the Wednesday night opening show. Bernadette’s desire would be fulfilled, I would be redeemed (better late than never), and we would see Bruce again for the first time since the 70’s when both he and we were still young.

The concert date arrived, and the afternoon began with a harbinger of sorts. We had a late lunch at a funky little spot in South Orange called The Blue Plate Special, kind of like eating in a hip thrift shop. Our waitress, a Russian girl who moved to Alaska at age four and ended up in New Jersey for college, told us that she had recently graduated from Seton Hall University just up the block. We told her that we had too, only four decades earlier.

“Did you meet there?” she asked, eyebrows raised in astonished anticipation.

“Yes, we did. And we’ve been together ever since.”

“Oh my God, that’s so cute!” she exclaimed in honest admiration. “That gives me such hope,” she added.

Bernadette and I spent the rest of the meal immersed in nostalgic recollection of that first chapter of our lives together.

us, 1970

We took the train to the Meadowlands from the South Orange station. It was my first trip to the stadium and my first arena event. I had seen many concerts of varying types over the years, but never one this size. I fretted about how Bruce, almost the same age as I, would perform, and apprehension over how the venue might affect the experience tempered my excitement. Not so my wife. She squirmed in her seat like a teenager at her first Beatles (or, I suppose, Justin Beiber) show. I watched as the people filed in. The huge crowd consisted of mostly older folks. This shouldn’t have surprised me, but it was unsettling to realize that I am one of them. In my mind I’m still the twenty-something guy going to see Bruce at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic back when he was still “the future of rock and roll.”

My fears proved to be unfounded. The show turned out to be nothing short of fantastic. Bruce did not concern himself with trying to recapture lost youth or relive past glories (as, unfortunately, some aging stars do). He didn’t have to. He did what he always has done, putting his heart and soul into his performance and reveling in the excitement of the moment. Playing old songs and new, he rocked and crooned and told stories and danced for almost four continuous hours. It was sublime. My initial discomfort of being amongst all the balding heads and paunchy bellies of my generation dissolved in the dark, loud, rock and roll night.

The next morning I received a recommendation for a You Tube video of Death Cab for Cutie’s song “Stay Young, Go Dancing.” This came from a former student, one who is an astute connoisseur of music as well as one of the most brilliant young writers I had ever encountered in my forty years of teaching. The theme of the video tenderly reflects a line from the lyrics, “And I’m swallowed in sound as it echoes through me, I’m renewed, oh how I feel alive and through autumn’s advancing, we’ll stay young, go dancing…” It instantly made a connection to what had transpired the night before.

The Death Cab video blew me away. Watching the wistful “Stay Young, Go Dancing” crystallized all of my conflicted emotions about my present stage in life. I have been writing about many of the past experiences of my life in this blog over the last year. I have said I was doing it to occupy my time or to record these stories before I start forgetting them. But I realize now that it is my way of trying to come to grips with this disconcerting period of transition in which I now find myself. As I watched the video, I thought too of my former student and her present place in this circle of life, of how inconceivable it is to think that one will ever really become old. And that is as it should be.

But just as each stage of life has its pitfalls, each also has its great joys, and this video reminded me of one of the greatest of these, traveling through the years arm in arm with someone you love. Bruce ended his show Wednesday night with “Dancing in the Dark” (he knocked it out of the park), and all the oldsters stood swaying and singing along with every bit of passion they could muster. The next morning I began the day with the gift of “Stay Young, Go Dancing” which soothingly intoned, “As the music plays, feel our bodies sway, when we move as one, we stay young,” so eloquently affirming the passion and beauty that can magically take place at every point during this journey.

So thank you Bruce for helping us to acknowledge rather than bemoan the passage of time and celebrate the present moment for what it is. Thank you Death Cab for evoking this reflective wonder which transcends age, and thank you Cara for being the perfect herald of this revelation. Most of all, thank you Bernadette, for you still keep me alive and swaying as we move as one, dancing together in the dark of the advancing autumn.

us, now