Birthday Boy

Please excuse the rambling nature of this missive.
I?m old, that?s my excuse.
How old, exactly? Well, if I actually make it to 6:49pm Eastern time this coming Wednesday, I will be sixty-five.
Let me put that in number form for you, ladies and gentlemen: 65. That?s SIXTY-FIVE years OLD.

I have not aged well.
I don?t mean in the external, superficial, the merely physical way. I suppose?aside from the myriad destructive effects of unrelenting, self-created, and self-maintained stress? I suppose I fall into a sort of middle category when it comes to that part of aging; Eyes, teeth, joints, various other parts and processes are worn or aching probably no more and no less than the average sixty-five-year-old?taking into account class, race, level of education, degree of missing serotonin at birth, etc.
I probably look 65, though I have a hard time judging that anymore?hard time telling, for that matter, what anybody?s age is. Everybody under thirty looks like they?re nineteen; anyone from their early thirties to about forty-five?I really can?t tell the difference?
I can sort of see the upper forties going into the fifties, get lost again in the mid-fifties to early sixties. But I pick up the scent again when someone hits their mid-to late-sixties to early seventies. After that, everybody is just OLD.
I know there are times when I sound much younger than I am. That might be a trick of the radio, or maybe some natural quality to the tone of my voice. People listening think I?m easily twenty or more years younger than I am, and, when I hear myself in the headphones at the station, I can tell I sound young. Maybe because that?s when I?m on the radio, I feel the most alive, so the enthusiasm and the vibrancy come bubbling through, making me sound more youthful.
A friend suggested I walk around with one of those hands-free phones that some people use on the street. I could, he said, pretend I?m on the radio all day long and I?d be recycling that youthfulness (and feel creative and useful) all the time. Not a bad idea. But then I?d become of those gross, insensitive, chatter-monsters that roam the streets and avenues of New York, and can only be stopped by ripping the phones off their persons, burning a cross into their foreheads, and pounding a stake through their hearts.
I might try it anyway. It seems to work for them?

By not aging well, I mean, not giving in at all to the movement of time and circumstance?not acknowledging, truly, the inevitability of aging, loss, death, change of any sort whatsoever, whether it brings pleasure or pain.
And so, my body ages?more than it really should?and my disposition, having been fashioned into something sour and melancholy when I was but a youth, gets more brittle, to the point of almost complete petrification.
When something new occurs in my life?and, of course, something new occurs, externally and beneath the surface, every waking and sleeping second in one?s life? When something new occurs I feel like bullets have been fired in my direction or the building?s fire-alarm has sounded on every floor (I don?t get a lot of sleep).

I have been, for most of my life, and for a great many complicated reasons (explained at length elsewhere) holding on to the scenes of my childhood. More specifically and sadly, I?ve been to have these scenes replayed, only better this time around?replay them WHILE I?m actually in the process of living my life in the constantly occurring present. It?s as if I was trying?while attempting to conduct the emotional and circumstantial business of whatever my current life was and is?to re-run my early life through a projector that never shuts off. And while I?m running it, I madly attempt to retouch each frame so it comes out the way I wanted it to, not the way it actually was.
To live in such a manner creates a great, yawning, dissociative loop in one?s life?so that while you are trying to constantly ?fix? the past, you are not really living in the present?the imbalance and disconnection you experience is forever creating fresh new occasions of regret and pain that also have to be retouched as you re-run them. Reductio ad (fill in the blank here?I didn?t take Latin in school).
Anyway, you see what I mean by not aging well.
Living in the here and now?letting the past go when it?s going (and gone) and not trying to anticipate or control the future?has not been my strong point.
If only I had been kidnapped by Tibetan monks when I was twelve years old and taught The Middle Way?taught that grasping brings suffering. But, alas, I was not, so I keep on grasping like a methedrined monkey.

I?ve comprehended this much?Notice I don?t say I?ve LEARNED?but I have recognized this much in my now almost sixty-five years; There are three things that are important in this vale of tears and laughter: WORK?work that expresses the deepest part of yourself; SPIRIT?some form of connection, no matter what form it takes, to the sense of a collective consciousness?that kind unaccountable certainty of all-being-in-same-boat as we sail through eternity; and, LOVE; the ability to receive and to give tenderness, passion and sympathy.
In all these great loci of existence, I have, sadly, fallen into the same category that I fell into in Junior High School: Underachiever.
What potential, sighed my guidance counselor… if only he could live up to it.
Or, to quote that great line from those terrific bad forties and fifties mad scientist movies, ?If only that great brain (heart) could be used for good?.?

I have tried, but fitfully, to get the right stroke as I swim through this swirling ocean of life, but, not having been taught how to swim in the first place ((or even float), it?s been rough going.
However, at this advanced age, I have long passed the time of righteously claiming various excuses for my relative failure to work, pray and love well. But of course that certainly hasn?t stopped me from making those excuses anyway. I have noticed though, in the last couple of years, my old excuses just don?t have the same traction they used to have?nowhere near the potency they once possessed. I should check the bottle–they’re probably way past date of use.
What is now becoming the obvious truth, and to paraphrase the great Southern American philosopher, POGO, ?I have met the enemy and he is me.?
Now I know that if I want to see who?s got his hand on my chest, holding me back from love and good works, I merely have to look in the mirror.

Rambling on, I wonder… Who could live with such a person? Well, astoundingly enough, someone actually lives with me! My lovely and long-suffering wife has an almost boundless optimism in human potential, no matter how aged and twisted the subject; she believes in the regeneration of the human heart and soul. Its pure dumb luck our paths crossed?she and I. Or maybe its fate?her birthday is tomorrow, the day before mine.

?Well, almost sixty-five and mortality just around the corner, whispering at me and asking me if I want to buy a cheap watch. And like the Rolling Stones say, When the Lord Gets Ready, You Gotta Move.
Our lives are framed by birth and death?a constantly moving frame. And our dramas and comedies are played out inside the shifting borders of this frame.
…I remember a great tear-jerker of a movie, from the book of the same name: Bang The Drum Slowly.
A cheerful but deeply stupid ballplayer on a major league baseball team in New York is the constant butt of the team?s jokes and taunts. He?s not much of a ball-player (he?s the catcher) in the first place and the rest of the team is relentlessly cruel to him. It also doesn’t help that the team is on a long losing streak and they are completely in disarray?blaming each other for their own mistakes, getting in to fights, cursing at each other in the locker room? And their main scapegoat is this poor fool of a catcher.
Now from the beginning of the movie, we (the audience) k
now that this ppor good-hearted schlemiel of a catcher has terminal cancer. Only he and his room-mate know about it. They try to hide it from the team so he can finish the season, but, inevitably, the secret leaks out.
As soon as the rest of the team hears about it, they start to come to his room to hang around with him, bring him food, ask him how he?s doing. They are kind to him for the first time in his career on the team.
When the catcher?s room-mate asks one of the players?in fact, the one that had been the poor little guy?s greatest tormentor, why he was being to kind to him, the player says: Well, he?s dying.? To which the room-mate says, ?We?re all dying, all the time.?
Indeed we are?which is as good a reason as any why we should all be kind to each other–and to our selves as well.
Would that it were always so? Maybe it is, just beneath the surface?the countless small human kindnesses you see performed out there every day?

How do I end this uplifting birthday greeting to myself (and anyone else who happens to turn 65 on June 16th)? Right, the Doves…

For the last several years a perfect storm of destruction, construction, and more noise and disruption than you could possibly imagine, has occurred no more than fifty feet outside my kitchen window?the only window in my apartment with even a slight view of the outside world.
First, about eight years ago, they knocked down a beautiful old movie theater, dating way back to vaudeville days. In its place?you guessed it?was erected a soul-less condo tower where the average apartment sells for 1.4 million dollars.
It took them six months to destroy the theater and another two years to build The Tower of Mordor. All that time, there was enough drilling, banging and blasting (not to mention the pollution it stirred up) to make a fairly good sound-track for any big Hollywood war movie.
Then, a couple of years after that they tore every brick off the near corner of my building?all sixteen floors; drilled into the steel, then replaced all the bricks. The relentless noise and clouds of brick dust and metal flying around were like a nightmare you couldn?t wake up from.
Six months ago, they repeated (and haven?t yet finished) doing the exact same thing to the corner of the building right outside my bedroom window.
From 8am till 4pm every day, and now on Saturdays, they are drilling, hammering and slathering on some kind of sealant that is probably banned in most civilized countries. The filth and dust they stir up comes in through the seams in the windows and turns our apartment a daily superfund site.

For years–right up until the commencement of all this chaos and destruction , there used to be a pair of doves that came every Spring and perched on the fire escape outside our bedroom window; beautiful, graceful, gray and brown creatures that cooed, in a slightly mournful but transcendently gentle way, as they walked lightly back and forth on the rusting, black-painted metal of the fire-escape. They found their way here because, I?m guessing, it was safe from predators of all sorts (there are hawks that patrol the skies above Riverside Park), and they could raise a new family each spring in peace and quiet.

Now it?s been close to eight years of relentless pounding and banging?generators and heavy pneumatic drills lie everywhere?dust and twisted metal fill the eye? But, one morning, about two weeks ago, just before The Destructors arrived to once again murder sleep, I heard a sound I though I would never hear again; a mournful, beautiful cooing.
I couldn?t believe it. Thought I was making it up. I do make things up, you know. But not this time? I looked out my kitchen window and there they were. Oh, maybe not the same exact doves?maybe their children or even their grandchildren? There they were, stepping ever so softly amidst the drills and brick chips, around the generators, hammers and filthy buckets?
The very sight of them filled me with peace, and more?the possibility?say, rather, the inevitability?despite my decades of personal attempts to ignore them–of the continuation of all things. They brought with them nothing less than the music of eternity… And here I had been thinking that had been stolen from me forever.

– Mike Feder (New York City – June 14, 2010)

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