Rock of Ages: Cha, Cha, Cha

By J. Michael Willard

Age stalks its victim slowly like an overfed cat does a mouse. Ageism, though, pounces like an angry black panther. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it mirrors that impression.

Old age is, as commonly stated, a state of mind. Ageism is discrimination against older people.

I wake up early, usually before 5 a.m. After swallowing a handful of pills, my early minutes are spent on nerve stretching exercises, then 30 minutes of aggressive swimming topped off with a three-mile brisk walk in the late afternoon.

This chews into my work day, carving out up to two hours; and, I do have to work because I like remaining active, as well as it’s a life necessity to stave off financial calamity.

At 73, I joyfully still have a high school senior preparing for college. I also have another daughter already in college, and a wife pursuing her MBA. I often have joked I can’t see retirement with the world’s largest telescope, the one in space called Hubble.

One could call my physical regimen responsible maintenance. Doctors applaud, but I label it crucial repair. Like many, I have sciatica, as well as a lower back alignment that even causes the MRI machine to grimace.

But, I’m not whining. The ailments are simply battle scars and evidence of a life generally well-lived, though not always responsibly.

I fight these demons my waking hours, and deal with them — sometimes with stern-faced determination and other times with an “oh, what the hell” . I’m the lucky one, my former work and classmates seem to be dying with depressing regularity.

In a 55-year-work career, I can only recall missing a grand total of maybe a week in the aggregate. I manage to churn out at least a book a year, a column a week, and find a little time to write songs. In between, there’s my day job: I raise the visibility of other authors, entertainers and business people.

I fear, though, my complaints are shared ones and don’t represent a solitary selfishness.

More and more it appears I belong to a baby-boomer crowd that feels their septuagenarian options limited. It can be a proverbial purgatory, waiting whatever final reward lies ahead — or doesn’t — depending on your beliefs.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

In the headlines today we see that former Vice President Joe Biden, 76, is considering running for President in 2020, ditto Sen. Bernie Sanders, 77. In-coming and past House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is 78, and, in front of the world, did an admirable verbal takedown of President Trump in the Oval Office recently.

Both gentlemen, and lady, give testament to the George Eliot quote: “You’re never too old to be who you might have been,” one of my long-time favorite sayings and a talisman I follow.

Each year, I shout a birthday hallelujah and note that Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, and Rod Stewart are all older than I and still rocking out like teenagers. If Elvis were alive today, he would still be overweight from peanut butter, jelly an fried banana sandwiches, but probably doing Las Vegas gigs singing “Suspicious Minds” — and occasionally — if his hips were working — “Hound Dog”

On the other hand, most of us chose different routes. Most of us can’t sing. Herein lies the challenge. I’m here to tell you it’s not that difficult, but it does take older folk moxie and grit.

What does the corporate executive — male or female — forced to retire from the Fortune 500 Acme Corp. do when he finds his pension doesn’t nearly meet his families expected needs? Or, the stock market sinks; or, he or she has piled on responsibilities like bark and blankets over a wigwam.

Take heart. I only have to look as far as my own client list to observe a herd of we older Americans still at it like banshies.

There’s the retired 30-year veteran of the FBI, who left that job in 1999, churning out thriller novels. He’s my age. There’s the former Watergate committee lawyer, 84, who took a break from his scholarly legal tomes to complete a political novel and who makes the TV chat circuit giving expert opinion. He’s also written an opera.

There’s the 74-year-old physical therapist who travels the country giving lectures on how not to surrender to age due to perceived physical problems. There’s the 76-year-old philosophy professor who just launched a new political party in Maryland and the 70-plus life coach who has a ground-breaking book on what’s right, what’s wrong and what’s evil with workplace romances.

So, there’s a message here. We all have niches, our life experiences and our talents, though sometimes they are forgotten. We merely have to shine a light on them.

Satchel Paige, the famed major league baseball pitcher who bedeviled batters until he was nearly 50, put it this way: “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?”

Forty is a good age for wishing, and hopefully I wouldn’t have that defoliated spot atop my noggin and liver spots the size of Pluto.

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J. Michael Willard

I am a novelist but my day job is utilizing my years as a business consultant, journalist, and public service in the field of international development.