by Gary Jacobson
Tomorrow I'm 40 years old!
Is this the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end?
Is 40 the gateway to a cold winter's life of snow and thorns?
Is forever lost in the autumn of life?
Is forever the scent of life's sweet rose's in bloom
that I cherish so?
Whatever, I have definitely passed the spring of my childhood
and the summer of young adulthood. I stand on the threshold
of middle age, the fall of life's seasons. It can't, it just
can't be true that I've passed my physical peak and it's
all downhill from here...or can it? I do feel a few more
creaks than I can remember in days past,
and the battle of the bulge is becoming an all out war,
but I do know more than I've ever known...except what
I've forgot, and I seem to be doing more of that lately.
Experience though! I do have more experience. It is said and
it is true, that youth is wasted on the young...anyway, that's
what my group sitting in the cool breezes under a large
lilac tree says. I've often commented that if I knew in youth
what I know now, youth would have been a lot more fun.
Fall...then come the ravages of old aged winter. I'm not ready
for that yet, but then is anybody? My friends tell me that
your 40th birthday marks the time you start to fall apart.
They said the same thing at 30, but this time they are
more definite ... more final!
Ah!!! When I was young life seemed an eternity. I thought it
would never end. Old age and death were so very far away.
They were something that always happened to the other guy.
I can recall sitting on my old grandfather's knee, never in
the foggiest realms of my thinking believing that where he
was I would someday be. He was old, and so far away from
me in years. The green, fragrant meadows of youth were too
expansive for me to see the trees on the other side.
I later worked in Vietnam for my rich uncle, Uncle Sam,
in his army. Death was so close I could taste it...but
I came through it, and coming through it, thought I
would surely live forever. Now...maybe it's my
imagination, but I can see the light at the end of the
tunnel of my existence. It?s still faint, but now it's
there, where before it wasn't.
I don't have to look at it however, for I've long followed
the policy that if you ignore old age it will go away. For
several years now I've been going backwards in time with
each passing birthday. I joke with friends that when I reached
my 30th plateau I could see I was going the wrong way...
there was no profit in where I was heading...I didn't like
what I could see ahead. So I smartly executed a military-like
about face, and have been getting younger every year.
I think young, and try to do young things. By my calculations
I'm now celebrating my 20th birthday...but who am I kidding.
The battle for youth is getting more fierce daily. Slowly but
surely I can feel it slipping away. I can't run as fast as I
once did. Bumps and bruises stay with me longer. I don't
bounce back as energetically as I did in my more resilient past.
The birthday eve has passed! I am now officially 40 years old,
whether I want it or not. Strange, but I don't feel the
crumbling, the rapid decomposition from within I was told I could
expect. Maybe my breakup is a time release mechanism, I
don't know. But I feel almost the same as I did yesterday.
I think...no, more than that, I know, middle and old age are
figments of the imagination. You're as old
as you think you are. If you think of slowing down and giving
up, you can bet your boots you will.
The physical aging process
is a reality, but many succumb to the process of decrepit decay
before their time. The sweet nectar of life is a constant
struggle, and the closer the end comes the more intense the
struggle must needs be.
Keep telling yourself that, Jacobson. After all, the sun did
come up this morning. Even the birds are still singing
in tune where they have made a nest outside my window.
I would even go so far as to bet that tomorrow will be much the
same as yesterday...and the day after that...and the day after
that. It's not the end of the world to be forty! There is,
after all, life that continues after forty...
discovery of discoveries. As Sonny and Cher used to sing it,
"And the beat goes on,"
though most of the now generation probably
don't even know who Sonny and Cher were. But then,
I don't know much about who Glen Miller was either.
It seems only yesterday I wrote the epitaph to
my fortieth year above. Yet now, 17 years later, 40 is
fading in the past. I'm heading pellmell for 60,
and still holding. Life is still good, not too much decay yet.
Birds aren't singing out of tune...yet!
Seemingly, very little has changed. Sure, I would like to
do some of the things I used to. I wish I could still
beat my son one on one in basketball in our driveway,
or be able to understand the new math
in Algebra and geometry equations my daughter brings home.
I assure her, smiling, I could certainly explain it fully,
adeptly, adroitly even, if teachers just didn't confound
the issue by sending the lessons home in Greek.
Life is still sweet, and still what you make of it, wherever
you are according to the sands of time; sands that slowly,
inexorably, trickle to the bottom of ye olde hour glass. Sand
at the bottom of the hour glass represents life past, so the
majority of my journey has been run. But still ahead lies the
sprint to the finish, the golden years where you can look back,
relax, and see what life has wrought. You can revel in your
children and their lives. You can cuddle the grandchildren, (if
we had any, Brian) knowing that because of you they are here,
and the cycle of life you started is just gaining momentum.
Hopefully, your children will listen to what you have gleaned
during your long journey of experience and learning gained
on your sojourn through the travails of life, and into the
valley of the shadow. I know children do not appear to hear a
single word you say. Kids often fight any expert logic
you might as good parents share...or dictums of discipline you
might in infinite wisdom impose...but if you say it, and say it
often enough, they will hear. Truly, they will! Someday your
very words will bear fruit. Just hope you don't have to eat
those words given during those pesky teenage years!
Your children when they befome adults may quote many of the
things said many years before to a seemingly deaf teenager.
Your one time teenager may now think the thoughts original
with him, because he does not know the source...but I know.
And I smile with pleasure,
when I realize many of his thoughts and actions are a direct
result of a father who loved him. Hopefully too, he
has learned from some of my mistakes, and there were some doozies!
I hope and trust he is able to differentiate between the two.
It is interesting to see tendencies now, learned from his home
life, interacting with those gleaned from his environment and
his experiences, melded into individual attributes now uniquely
his own. I can look back and see these little transformations
and adaptations...because my stately being as I approach
my sexy sixties affords me the chance to sit back and observe.
Remember how I said I was ignoring old age by going back
in time with each passing birthday...and how at thirty I hadn't
liked what I could see ahead, so did an about face, getting
younger every year. By my actual calendar age of forty, I
jokingly said I was celebrating my 20th birthday.
Well, looking down into the chasm of youthful indiscretion and
na´vetÚ below 20...I came to the conclusion quickly,
I don' want to get any younger either.
Being too young is even worse than being too old!
So I smartly did an about face and started up life's track
When I was fifty, I joked I was thirty, and again did an about
face to yo-yo down again. I now figure that by these
calculations I am 23...you getting all this?
But, as I said, who am I kidding?
I wonder how long I can keep this delusion up...and
surprisingly, lately I have begun not to care so much about
the facade of Tom foolery, or flip-flopping ages.
I just call a spade a spade...
I am rather proud of being sub 60.
I am even rather proud of the sometimes circuitous journey
that brought me kicking and screaming to where I now reside.
Sure I fought and almost died in that cruel Asian war.
Sure it stripped me of my innocence.
That war messed up my trust, my faith, my value systems, my
direction and purpose laid as a foundation during my youth,
in ways that I still find confusing, and hard to comprehend.
Vietnam was a hum dinger of a test.
And the score is still being tabulated.
But Vietnam also gave me some things too. I have a much
greater appreciation for the fragility of life in the most
simplest things. My every footfall since that fateful day
is done harkening back to the lessons learned there.
Vietnam not only imbedded in me a multitude of fears,
and voracious memories, but laid a new set
of senses attuned finitely to the little things.
I know I maybe think too much still.
Now that's a conundrum...can you really ever think too much?
I know I do,
and once again my group sitting under a lilac bush concur.
I ponder why, to the extreme!
I weigh what happened so long ago, yet only yesterday,
and endlessly contemplate the meaning. I am carried back
constantly, unwillingly, to that fateful struggle, again,
and yet again, feeling and assessing its impact on my life,
thinking on war's impact to my wife and children,
and their children.
I find thoughts and memories becoming more vivid
rather than diminished with passage of time,
as I look back and think of what I could have done,
should have done. I think of clinging to my straight and
narrow rod to God established in youth, then severed. My
life has been a struggle to again find the pieces. I still
feel tears welling up uncontrollably in me whenever I again
revisit the horrors buried deeply in my soul. But no matter
how severe my wounds, Vietnam taught not to feel sorry for
myself. I couldn?t feel pity for myself.
It was impossible, because there were so many all around
so much worse off than I. Every way I would turn
I would see horrors that made mine pale in significance.
I think it's like the parable of the man who cried because
he had no shoes, until he met a man who had no feet.
I know things about life from traumas in Vietnam, that I would
never have known but for Vietnam. The ordinary person
on the streets can never know, will never know,
the lessons Vietnam taught me, until he too has gone down
into that valley of the shadow. I've faced the devil, and it
touch and go for awhile there...but I won...at least
the first round! I am not saying I know all the answers,
far from it. But at least I know there is a question.
Vietnam posed that question, and waited for the answer.
Though Nam made of life a hard, hard road, I will persevere.
I will be further ahead in the long run, if I can put
the pieces back together, than if had continued in na´vetÚ
and childish innocence.
Vietnam is my refiner's fire! "Into the furnace
God may try you,
hence to bring thee forth more bright." The refiners fire is a
process making ordinary steel into finer steel, by purifying it
in a spectacular heat that will break ordinary steel with any
coarse, inferior elements, but polish and make elegant that
purified. Whenever I feel on the verge of breaking, I sometimes
think of the test to true character Vietnam has given me.
You remember how I wondered earlier, "Is this the end
of the beginning, or the beginning of the end?"
Well, I'm still not sure of the answer to that question, but
I do know I can more clearly see the light at the end of the
tunnel. I'm just not sure if that light signals a greater
life to come, or just a freight train bearing down full bore.
In the autumn of life snows are starting to fall,
but for some reason I'm not in the least worried.
They say life is downhill after forty. It's a
slippery slope alright. All I can do is try to be calm
as I watch the parts fall off...and coast on in.
Besides, anything I used to do I can now do better...
it just takes me a little longer to get up the steam.
Sure, I may have lost a step or two...some say three,
but I can still do hings I did when I was younger,
because of experience. As to ravages of old aged winter...
bring 'em on. I'm ready for them.
When I see those in the 90+ age bracket, I think life
is an eternity ahead...but I know too the end can come
in a twinkling, anytime, without warning, day or night.
But that's the way I want the end to come, without warning,
without premeditation, without lingering deliberation and
contemplative conjecture. Death is not postulation.
Death is not speculation. It will happen!
We are all going there sooner or later, no matter what we do.
Death is a proven, undeniable fact...and it happens daily.
It may yet be a long ways away, or it could come tomorrow.
I'm in the loop, and the pillages of my youthful body and
spirit in Vietnam still may have a hand to play with death's
hole card, Agent Orange, or the residual effects that
Vietcong booby trap wrought. I may have been killed there,
I just don'?t know it yet.
My grandfather and grandmother preceded me into that great
realm beyond, followed by my father and mother. I am now the
oldest of the oldest generation in my family now living...
now that's a sobering thought. I know I said I wouldn't
get too contemplative about it, but you know, I've done things
I said I wouldn't before. In the Autumn of your life
things tend to stay the same, or change everyday. There
is no wrong or right to any of this...only the way it is!
I'm just rolling merrily along, going with the flow...
except when I'm not, pausing for reflective tears,
the contemplation of past and future. Sure there are
cares. There are big ones...truckloads of cares, but you
can't obsess on them...especially when they consist of
things you can do nothing about. You must think deeply
only about the cares that are so vitally important,
like...uh, well, I, uh...I forgot! So, no worries!
And still, the beat goes on...
Well, here it is! It finally happened! I tried to slow down the
wheels of time, but it just wasn't happening. I tried to ignore
it as the days approached, pretending it just wasn't going to happen to me. I
even smiled when some cantankerous people (you know who you are,
and you will get yours)kept reminding me of it. I plied the
theory that maybe, just maybe, if I ignored it long enough, it
would just forget all about me and go away....not go away mad,
understand, just go away quietly, forgetting me for about twenty
more years. Maybe it would just pass me on by. It could
happen! But here it is...and I guess there's no escaping it.
When I peeked out from under my covers this morning, there it
was, smiling back at me with this big lasagna-eating grin!
The big 6-0...60, sixty...can you believe it? That's six
decades, you know, 6X10 of this foolishness...over half a
century. It doesn't matter a whole bunch how you say it,
it's not going to really change the affect sixty has on you.
Now, just be honest. I'm a real, bonafide, honest to
goodness senior citizen. I've had time to think it over
considerably, and I'm all right with being sixty.
Nooooooooooooooooooooo!!!! Say it isn't soooooooooooooooooo!!!
I don't wanna go.........
Now get over it...just get over it, I tell you. No matter how
you say it, sixty will take its toll...sixty is like that, you
know. It's not what you'd call one of your better years,
despite all the press that it gets. Now, twenty-seven, I liked
that one...I liked that one a lot...college, the girls, living
away from home, the girls, self-dependance, the girls, a new
car...and did I mention the girls. Weren't they something! Now
you say I'm sixty...God forbid! What effect will it have on
me...arthritis, rheumatism...senility? Is it true that everything is all downhill from here? Why, I still haven't even got my Mercedes Benz.
Where did it all go?
I still feel young, not quite a young kid again...God, I wouldn't
want to go through that again. I'm just too darned young to be
that darned old, aren't I? I mean, c'mon, be honest...but not
that honest, it's just not fair. What are birthdays but numbers
anyway? And who's counting? Is there a bean counter somewhere
with an evil grin on his face, and a pot full of beans, each
representing a year in my illustrious life. Who pays attention
to such claptrap anyway? Who cares that the candles from my
birthday cake might start a small forest fire way out here in
drought-stricken Idaho? Who cares the fire chief done
prohibited lighting that many incendiary devices on my
birthday cake all at once...though he did make a slight
concession. He said I could light 'em ten at a time for six
days. Now wouldn?t that be something? Just imagine. I had
to say no, though. I just couldn't bare the thought of
fessing up to sixty, for six days running.
I just don't believe it! I won't! I'm not that old, I tell
ya. Why won't somebody believe me, huh? There's gotta be
someone on my side to fight this age discrimination thing.
C'mon, it's a joke, isn't it? I mean, it's a cruel and
heartless joke under the best of circumstances, but I can
take a joke as well as the next guy...I think... but I
forget...can't really remember...
What's that, you say? What? Lean a little closer dear, I don't
hear quite as well as I use'ter. I'm just a little deef in that
there ear since the big war in Vietnam... What? Oh, I
see...you're gesturing towards the mirror. There now, I be
lookin? at it. I don't see what y'all is a tryin' to point
out. What's the fuss? There's just some old geezer sittin'
there, lookin' smack-dab at me. Who's that feller think he
is, anywho? Gulp! Double gulp!! That can't be...it just
can't be...but it is me! Oh my land o' Goshen, it is! Yeah, I guess
I am sixty...I have to admit it, a little grayer...a little
paunchier...a little more dried up and washed out. It is me! I'm plumb
But what's so dagnabbit wrong with that , anyway. That's
what I'd like to know. I'm proud of every cotton pickin'
gray hair on my cotton pickin' head. I earned every one of
'em, by darned. So I'm sixty...big deal! It's not like the
sky's going to fall in on me now, is it? Still, I do look
heavenward more often than I've done in awhile. "Always safe,
never sorry," is my motto.
Fact is, I'm proud to be sixty. You would be too if you knew
the stuff I had to go through to get here. Sixty is a pinnacle.
I earned it!
You can see a long way from here...further back to the times
I helped form this nation, or at least grease its wheels to
keep it running, if I don't forget. Sometimes the memories are
hard. Sometimes I can hardly make them out through the tears
flowing like a river when my eyes water. I can see further
ahead too, sometimes when the light is just right, over the
boundaries of this life, and beyond what most people can see.
But most times the future's just a puzzle...a conundrum as it
were...gotta use my favorite word.
So, what advice do I have to offer as a newly ordained sage?
Yeah, that's right...I've got to be a full fledged sage...
there's gotta be some perks from my odometer turning over to
sixty besides all those senior discounts I now qualify for.
So here ya go: 1) To thine own self be true. Listen to the
still, small voice inside telling you what not to do, or
telling you, "Don't go there." That spirit inside you often
knows what is best for you. It knows what things, or deeds,
will make you happy or unhappy. It knows because it is truly
the essence of you...your touch of divinity, the sum of all
you've been taught and learned during your tenure on this
earth. It knows who's naughty or nice ... wait a minute, I'm starting to sound like som other historical figure, an' I don't wanna go there!
The second is like unto the first. 2) To others do
no harm. Yes, it's true...what goes around, comes around. It does!
Call it Karma, or whatever you will, if you throw pie into
the face of another, you're sure to get some on you.
The time will suely come when you are the
recipient of that pie in the face also. Just live and
learn...that's what I've been doing...livin' and learnin'.
And chances are, I'll get there before you.
3) With all thy getting, get going... You know that saying
where it says, "Better late than never?" Well when you're
sixty, you better get a move on, because never is a little
closer and breathing down your neck. 4) Just do it! Yeah,
I know, someone said it first, but do you think I care a
hoot? Oh yeah, when you're sixty you're allowed to be
crotchety...or so they say...so there!
From the lens and poets pen of a combat infantryman...
take a walk in the park with the
1st Air Cavalry on combat patrol.
Read poems, "A Combat Soldier's Prayer, I Felt I'd Died,
My Thousand Yard Stare, Soldiers Of The Wall,
LZ Snoopy and the Red Baron, A Soldier's Seven Guardian Angels,
Song Of Napalm," and more...
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