1967. It was the Summer of Love. Youth gathered in Haight-Ashbury to hear music, dance, do a few drugs, and celebrate peace and love. Rolling Stone magazine published its first issue, and the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs played in the first Superbowl.
And it was the summer of discontent. Newark, New Jersey was besieged by one of hundreds race riots that swept across U.S. cities that year, labeling 1967 the Long Hot Summer.
It was a year of war. Lyndon B. Johnson was president and the Vietnam War was escalating. American troop strength in Vietnam was approaching 500,000 and U.S. casualties had reached 15,058 killed and 109,527 wounded. Anti-war protests sprang up in New York and San Francisco. By October, protesters flooded the capital, descending on the Pentagon.
The summer Newark burned and protesters marched, I was an awkward, self-conscious seventh grader trying to navigate the social norms of junior high school. That summer I was singing along with Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl” on the radio at the community pool, largely oblivious to the unrest across the nation.
I was full of hope and aspirations of how my life would be. Unlike my mother’s generation, I dreamed of a career, a husband, a family, and a life in the burbs. I imagined we could change the world and make it a better place. Growing old, however, wasn’t in the plan.
That summer, the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Buried among the more popular songs was “When I’m 64,” an odd, but catchy tune about love and aging. A song about undying love, but I couldn’t relate to being 64. My dad wasn’t even that old.
Flash forward to 2020. Good lord, I am 64. While I don’t think of myself as old, my body parts are definitely out of warranty and need replacing.
Throughout my teenage years, I spent hours in front of the mirror, curling my hair and putting on way too much makeup. Now, I stare into the sink each morning, because looking in the mirror is well, frightening. That old person staring back can’t possible be me. The once taut skin around my face is sagging and wrinkled, and I look more like aging Queen Elizabeth than the youthful teenager I remember.
Years of getting as close as possible to the stage (and amplifiers) at too many rock concerts left me with tinnitus — ringing in the ears. I now wear high-tech hearing aids that trick my brain into not hearing the constant high-pitched screeching.
There’s chronic pain from an arthritic hip, and I’m weeks away from hip replacement surgery. My mouth is filled with crowns and bridges hiding gaps where teeth used to be. I can’t eat anything that tastes good anymore to prevent me from creeping into the pre-diabetic range. When I do have that piece of chocolate cake, I carry around the guilt for weeks. Just recently, weird growths started popping up all over my body. I had the misfortune of being a redhead during the years before we had sunscreens.
I don’t know about you, but to me it seems like I just woke up one day — old. I remember my dad used to love Peggy Lee’s song, “Is That All There Is?” At the time, I thought wow, that’s so depressing. I couldn’t understand why that song struck home with him. A few weeks ago the song came on the radio and thought about my father. Listening to the lyrics now at age 64, it took on a whole new meaning.
Over the years, I’ve had a successful career, traveled the country, met celebrities and heads of state. I’ve also been through heartbreak, divorce, and bouts of poverty raising two kids alone. Looking back, it didn’t measure up to that Hallmark image I had envisioned it would be. Not a bad life, mind you. But I took the safe route. The responsible one.
I put all my efforts into keeping a roof over our heads. I fed the kids. Like many baby boomers, my identity was based on what I did for a living and the image I portrayed in the working world.
Then suddenly I woke up one day, the kids were gone, and I was becoming irrelevant in the workplace. Age bias in America is increasing as the social security retirement age rises and people stay in the workforce longer. According to statistics, 61% of older workers have experienced or seen age discrimination. It’s often subtle, but make no mistake, it’s there. When you’ve based your self-worth on your work for years, it’s a startling revelation. You feel worthless, cast aside, because your personal worth was based on your work status.
It was tough facing the fact I physically can’t do all the things I used to do, and I’m no longer at the top of the food chain. It forced me to re-examine my priorities, discover who I really am, and what really matters. During that journey of self discovery, I found I no longer cared what people think, and I was no longer tethered to the social norms I struggled so hard to navigate as a kid.
Yeah, you young millennials, I’m old, but I’m not dead. You don’t need to need me or feed me or even like me when I’m 64. I’m free.
So dad, I finally get it. I’m going to keep dancing and break out the booze and have a ball. Although, I might go easy on the booze. The old stomach can’t handle alcohol like it used to.
Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is