May 3, 2007
My second childhood
It took eight decades, but at last I know what is meant by "second childhood."
In my first childhood, my social life consisted of dating attractive young women. This second time around my calendar is just as full but my partners are all doctors.
The world looks different to me now that I have reached 80. It isn't that I feel any older, it's just that everyone else appears so much younger. And more distant. And a bit blurry around the edges. And much more difficult to hear. My ears have taken early retirement and last year, out of consideration for my fellow citizens, I gave up driving at night.
I am told that this last one is almost like a rite of passage; if you move to a retirement home to become one of its few available males, your popularity depends on your ability to drive at night. I will report to you further on this when and if the occasion arises.
The world sees me differently as well. What used to be bad taste (sloppy clothing, for example) is now acceptable. People are much more helpful; they see my four-legged cane and pause to open doors. If I should sit in my car for a few minutes trying to figure out the intricacies of cruise control, someone will rap on the window and ask if I am all right. At the supermarket I have been presented with my own key for the electric carts that are not equipped, thank heavens, with the latest gadgets dreamed up in Detroit. Besides, I no longer walk: I shuffle.
There is yet another problem. There are rows of keys on my computer's keyboard whose meaning I fail to comprehend and icons on its screen whose purpose passeth all understanding. The makers of these gadgets assume that their customers are all graduates of MIT. In 688 pages of "Mac OSX for Dummies" there is not a single definition of the oft-used phrase "default position." My wife and children, all highly computer literate, have given up trying to explain these matters to me; they use PCs and regard Macs as childish toys suitable only for the technologically challenged.
Despite this litany of whiney self-indulgence there are some advantages to being long in the tooth.
Even though the Iraqi quicksand is gradually swallowing us up, I am not likely to be drafted again for military service. Nor am I personally threatened by global warming, awakened in the morning by an alarm clock, paying for anyone's college tuition or worrying about the state of my (nonexistent) portfolio.
Three sessions a week of cardiac rehab do much, I am told, for one's physical well-being and has led to a discovery that will please the Bush administration.
They were expecting to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Well, I found them right here in my home city of Providence, R.I., at Miriam Hospital's cardiac center.
And my brain, upon which I used to depend for solving The New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle, now is exercised by following the antics of Brad, Angelina, Britney, Paris, Nicole and their exes.
I used to imagine that life in the Golden Years would feature an endless series of visits from adoring grandchildren, all yearning to sit at the feet of the Fount of Wisdom so as to benefit from his experiences and profound utterances on issues of great moment. I have since discovered that grandchildren tend to live thousands of miles away and have interests of their own that rarely include the accomplishments of the Yankee teams of the 1930s or the pleasures of riding on the Sixth Avenue El all the way to the Battery. Instead, they chatter on about Game Boys, text messaging and other modern time-wasters, which will, in due course, turn them into members of the genus illiterati.
I know that it will all come to an end in a month or a year or perhaps another decade, but I don't know how or when. Nor am I particularly anxious to find out. If there is one thing about which we elderly codgers are aware, it is that in becoming elderly we are riding a wave of good fortune.
After all, consider the alternative.
Yehuda Lev, The Journal's first associate editor, lives in Providence, R.I., where his business card reads Editor Emeritus. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.