"Too Old," by David L. Robbins
Reflections on reaching a certain age
I turned 65 this year. I’m now officially too old.
For what? Oh, don’t act like you don’t know.
For myself, of course. For my own nonsense.
I just don’t indulge or excuse myself like I used to. As a younger man (and if you knew me, you’re about to nod), I was intense. Everything mattered. I wouldn’t, or couldn’t, discern. I was defensive about my choices and ego, very busy building myself into what I intended to be: a good man. That felt like a proper goal, so I took unkindly any suggestion that I might be otherwise.
As a boy – and I was a boy for a long time – I had to be heard, seen and acknowledged. I needed to be right. I believed in a zero sum game of disagreement. You had to lose in order for me to win.
In matters of emotion, I was insistent on innocence. Accused of some act or verbal slight for which I didn’t agree I should be held accountable, I explained I was “just saying” or you needed a better sense of humor or you misunderstood. Why all the drama?
I was demanding because I believed I was demanding of myself. I judged others by the standards with which I judged me. Too often, in my private ledgers, good people came up short.
I took myself on adventures. I went out on weekend nights, saw all the popular movies and listened to the latest music. I kept up with social and political topics. I could be confrontational. I worked physically hard.
And on. And … well, on.
THAT WAS THEN
But happy day and hallelujah. I am now just too damn old. It’s too much effort to be that young all the time.
In 65 years, against my will, beneath my notice, like the slow drip that carved the Grand Canyon, I learned a few things.
Like, winning an argument often loses you affection. Bad trade.
When faced with hurt feelings, whether I’ve caused them or not, the matters of innocence and guilt can come later, if ever. Before the wounded heart or ego, I take a knee. Forgiveness is wonderful even if I don’t think I need it.
Happiness is so amazing, it doesn’t matter if it’s mine or not. (I cribbed this line from a Netflix series, Ricky Gervais’ After Life, but I just had to use it.)
These days, I sit home a lot of nights with a cigar and a book. With my feet up on my porch, puffing away, I do not forget that I’ve spent many other nights sailing the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, listening to a lion roar in the African bush, riding a horse on the Pacific coast, holding and being held. I’ve had so many off-the-hook nights, I’m not jealous for another one all the time. I’ll have more. I understand that if I bet on tomorrow, I’ll only be wrong once.
I no longer confront jerks. Never yet seen anyone stop being a jerk for telling them they were.
All in all, turning 65 feels better than I guessed it might. I have a catalog of habits and routines I’m comfortable with, a few accomplishments and trophies, friends who at this point are literally old friends, a long history of being myself.
It’s a pleasure to get through a day with some gentleness and confidence and a wisdom I never imagined could be mine, hard won over decades of being difficult. I have courage now, too (I ride a motorcycle; I’m told it’s dangerous) and a self-soothing worldview rooted in the fatalism that I can’t die young any more, only just too soon.
I’ve been there and done that. In a sense, I’m done. But in a larger, more powerful way, I’m not done at all. I’m sort of getting to start fresh, better prepared this time. I have resources, I know what I’m doing. I’m no longer preoccupied with working only on myself. I can work more for my loved ones and community.
It’s liberating to have lived this long. I’m not jealous of the days, I don’t hear the clock like I used to. The ticking of now doesn’t drown out the memories of then. I’m fine with that. But no matter where I am in my allotted years, I will not relinquish my one true hope, my sustaining lifelong insistence, to be a better man ahead.
Best-selling author David L. Robbins is founder of the James River Writers, co-founder of The Podium Foundation and creator of the Mighty Pen Project veterans’ writing program.