stock happy birthday cake

The Beatles ruined it.

No one can turn 64 without feeling old.

I’m closing in on the number. For weeks the song has been running through my mind. Not quite running, more like jogging slowly or walking briskly or strolling, like I might start doing when I hit 64 on the last day of May.

The lyrics used to amuse me, especially when others hit that mile marker, like my husband and older siblings. Now the words make me cringe:

“I could be handy, mending a fuse, when your lights have gone.

You can knit a sweater by the fireside, Sunday mornings go for a ride.

Doing the garden, digging the weeds, who could ask for more?

Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?”

It is comforting that the man who wrote the song turns 77 on June 18. Paul McCartney is still rockin’ it, even though the coronavirus canceled his Freshen Up tour.

Birthdays are a time to freshen up. To wear bolder colors. To stand a little taller. To walk a little farther. Still, the age odometer is a funny thing. We tend to make a big deal out of birthdays that end in zero. Poet Billy Collins mocked that practice when he wrote, “On Turning Ten.”

“You tell me it is too early to be looking back, but that is because you have forgotten the perfect simplicity of being 1 and the beautiful complexity introduced by 2.

But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.

At 4 I was an Arabian wizard.

I could make myself invisible by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.

At 7 I was a soldier, at 9 a prince.”

At Sweet 16 you can drive. At least it used to be so. Now you can get your license six months earlier.

At 18, you can vote. You can also get drafted.

At 21, you can drink legally. But by then, most of us have already conquered a few keg parties.

At 30, if you’ve survived the quarter-life crisis, you’re overwhelmed by babies or searching for your soul mate or the next perfect career step.

At 40, yikes. Middle age? No. But that first gray hair does stop your heart.

Then 50. It’s half time. Cover the mirrors. Cue the black balloons. Order the statin.

At 60, you’re still in the third quarter of life, but some of your friends aren’t. And you realize that list of loss will only grow longer.

At 65, you’re eligible for Medicare.

At 70, you can get the biggest bang from your Social Security bucks.

Then the fourth quarter hits and you’re just glad to be above ground because so many people you love aren’t any more.

I celebrate growing old. A year or so after I finished chemo and radiation for breast cancer at age 41, I had terrible stabbing pains in my lower back.

The oncologist ordered a bone scan. I prepared myself for the worst: bone cancer.

The technician announced, “You have arthritis in a disc.”

I jumped with glee. Woo hoo! I have arthritis.

I got busy doing back exercises, strengthened the muscles around my spine and can give all my grandkids piggy back rides, even though they’re 6, 8 and 11.

I hit the brakes on hair coloring during the coronavirus. After the governor ordered the closing of barber shops and hair salons, a friend wrote on Facebook, “It’s about to get ugly out there!”

Nah. I look in the mirror and see the silver lining. I “get to” grow old. Today is the best I’m ever going to look.

So bring on 64. McCartney wrote the song when he was 16, back when 40 looked ancient. When you see the song through the eyes of youth, it’s actually about looking forward to growing old with a lover.

I love how Collins ended “On Turning Ten,” with a child saying goodbye to imaginary friends:

“It seems only yesterday I used to believe there was nothing under my skin but light.

If you cut me I would shine.

But now if I fall upon the sidewalks of life,

I skin my knees. I bleed.”

I’m OK with a little blood.

I know I’ll fall upon the sidewalks of life. I’ll skin my knees, maybe twist an ankle or crack an elbow, but I plan to shine, all the way to the end.

With or without my imaginary friends.


Read Regina Brett online at cjn.org/regina. Connect with her on Facebook at ReginaBrettFans. 2019 APME Best Columnist.

Disclaimer

Letters, commentaries and opinions appearing in the Cleveland Jewish News do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Cleveland Jewish Publication Company, its board, officers or staff.

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