Paying heed to some excellent advice then Managing Editor Rick Nagel regularly provided when toiling for the Beacon-News, unless it’s a truly humorous event, I generally refuse to engage in what he liked to call “navel gazing.”
Who wants to read about me anyway?
But there is one exception! Whenever both numbers in my age change, I feel compelled to address how that inexorable chronological advance has affected my outlook on this frequently fascinating existence. Since this kind of self-centered self-reflection comes but once per decade, I firmly believe that even my former editor would give me the go ahead.
Though, truth be told, this column came close to hitting the cutting room floor. In an uncharacteristic depressive bout, this looming milestone makes me feel a lot like Chuck Yeager attempting to break the sound barrier for the first time. That said, I want to be clear that I’m not expecting, nor do I require any sympathy because I don’t need it.
It would only piss me off.
It’s just that it would be patently hypocritical of me to apply my capacity for discerning the truth to everything and everyone but myself. So, no! Though no birthday has flummoxed me before, this one can go fuck itself!
The folks who claim I have a middle school mentality notwithstanding, I’m not ready for 60. I know it’s just a number and I know it’s just a mentality, but it’s a really big number and a clear indication that two-thirds of my life is behind me – if I’m lucky – and none of you all decide to take me out first.
At 50, you can con yourself into thinking you have half your life left to live, but we all know the only way 120 is gonna happen is behind the wheel of a Lamborghini.
Yes! Turning 60 does beat the alternative, but barely when you consider the unrelenting stockpile of predominantly stupid people who inhabit this planet. If the Zen folks are right about the whole past lives thing, all I can say is, I ain’t coming back to this shithole!
Sure! It’s gratifying when good friends stare at me in shock as I mention my approaching sexagenarian-ness. (We’ll just keep the whole daily beard dying thing between us.) And while the Ward/Schuh lineage means bad hair, teeth and knees, if we manage to avoid the whole alcoholism thing, we do generally age well.
To wit, I can still sprint a 12 second 100-meter dash, and, with a new allergist and new asthma regimen, I mean it when I say I’m going to string three six-minute miles together and win a 5k in the fall of 2019. I suppose that’s something to look forward to.
But the most fascinating thing about the last decade was, not only learning I’m the king of ADHD, but that I sit well out on the autism spectrum. It may be true that knowledge is power, but having to completely reframe my existence at 59 has been no small feat.
Though, I have to say that one of the more humorous aspects of that mental reformation has been coming to terms with my eminently dysfunctional parents. Were it not for them forcing me to find sanity, I would never have learned to play the extrovert. And that has become a huge advantage.
Again! No sympathy necessary, nor will it be accepted. We all know this life is patently unfair, and quite often capricious. And I hate to disappoint my detractors, but rest assured, I have not, and will not, ask Hamlet’s question. It’s just not in autistic folks’ nature.
But that doesn’t mean The Bard was wrong when he issued that soliloquy. In fact, he was dead on. Given the capacity to, on occasion, slip the coils of my absurd mind and see the truth or a little further into the future, I find this life to be a consistent disappointment.
And that’s the root of the problem – unless a situation becomes dire – my semi-autistic compatriots and I aren’t valued in a 24/7, instant gratification, I’m always right, digital world. In ages past, we were the oracles, medicine men, and shamans, but those practices have kinda fallen by the wayside.
And I can’t be a priest because I have no intention of molesting young boys.
Please don’t get me wrong! I fully comprehend that ninety-percent of the planet’s populace would gleefully trade places with me. I do what I love every day and I’m good at it. I’m financially secure. I have more real friends than I’d ever imagined, and, aside from a mild blood pressure issue and an overeager thyroid, I’m in excellent health.
This ain’t no mid-life crisis.
So yes! I do recognize my immense good fortune, but the more I age, the more I realize that the money and friends are simply a bulwark against the endless supply of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune this life favors. There is far too much pain and suffering in this existence for my taste, and the fact that it’s often self-inflicted doesn’t mitigate it at all.
So, I’m turning 60. Big fucking deal!
Just like Sisyphus and his eternal boulder, I will persevere. I will keep writing columns in an effort to redress the imbalances we’ve already discussed here with no illusion of what one man can accomplish. I will continue to fight the good fight because most of you bleeps either won’t, or have no clue how to go about it. I will continue to write books because that’s my passion. I will insist on hurtling towards my running goals for no other reason that it would be hilarious for a 60-something man to defeat an entire 5k field.
I will persevere in living and loving relentlessly, regardless of my psychologist’s sage advice to reasonably sublimate my brain’s inherent intensity, not to mention the fact that the lows often seem more expansive than the highs. Put more simply, it’s time for the world to adjust to me.
I firmly believe you’re seeing that phenomenon in my more recent writing. Moderation just ain’t my thing! To quote the great Dylan Thomas, nothing can stop me from “raging against the dying of the light,” and I won’t!
Not to mention that Bruce Cockburn was right when he intoned, “Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight. Ya gotta kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight.”
As we come to the merciful end, I’d like to think this is something more than navel gazing. I’d like to think it’s a vintage Jeff Ward rant wrapped up on a love letter to all my more self-reflective compatriots who realize that life generally sucks, and they suffer for seeing more of the truth as they age. You’re not alone.