I turned 65 a few days ago. It feels fantastic.
I’m in reasonably good health, with no noticeable aches, pains, infirmities or disabling wounds. I have been to 39 countries and 34 states. I have eaten some really weird things, seen weirder ones, drunk a 1945 Chateau Lafite, flown on the Concorde, dined on the HMS Victory, sailed on a Swan 651, slept in a jail, lived with a soap opera actress, snubbed Mick Jagger (didn’t recognize him) and driven across the country twice — once in a in a Jaguar XKE and once in a Corvette Stringray.
I have played Pebble Beach, skied down Ruthie’s run, scuba-dived in Bonaire, and played tennis in Bibury, squash at the Racquet Club, backgammon at the Regency, hold ’em poker at the Horseshoe, honeymoon bridge in room 220 of the Aruba Caribbean Hotel, billiards at Whites, baccarat in Monte Carlo, Monopoly in Quito and Chinese poker on a junk in the middle of Hong Kong Harbor.
I have never jumped out of an airplane, snowboarded, gone whitewater rafting, bungee-jumped, hang-glided, para-sailed, been to the top of the Empire State Building or gone to Cuba to help harvest sugar cane. I took a pass on Woodstock, didn’t go on strike in 1968 at Harvard, and never went to a sit-in. I avoided gurus, ashrams, crystals, macrobiotic diets, macrame, oat bran muffins (remember them?), dieting, “wellness” classes and anything that had the word “spinning” associated with it.
I have worked with some of the smartest and dumbest people in banking and finance. I have changed careers five times in my life. I was a stockbroker, a casino executive, a marketing consultant to banks, a specialist in alternative investments and a blogger (I’m still a blogger. So far, it’s may favorite job). I have earned a lot of money, very little money and no money at all at various times in my life.
Of course, I have regrets. Those who say they don’t have either attained a perfection that I can only admire, or are lying. If you have no regrets, you haven’t tried hard enough.
But the thing that strikes me the most on this day is the difference between what I expected from the world, and what the world actually delivered. Let me go back to 1957, when I was ten. I promise to make the trip a brief one.
Telephones had dials, TVs were black and white, and parents were pretty sure that rock and roll was the devil’s work. But things were changing very, very fast. The Space Age had begun with Sputnik in 1957. Cars had suddenly sprouted huge tail fins and rakish designs foretelling an ultramodern era of automated convenience and plenty. The biggest danger to the world was communism. And the US was the most prosperous, most powerful and most technologically advanced nation in the world by a very wide margin.
But if you had asked us then to predict what would be the most important changes in the world fifty-five years later, we wouldn’t have come close. Computers? Terrorism? China? Energy? Pollution? We gave these things little if any thought.
What I am suggesting here is that we today are no different. The issues that will concern us fifty-five years from now are most likely things that we barely notice today. Oh, yes, we face dire threats. Haven’t we always?
Net result: I’m not going to worry about it any more. At this point, I have already done most of what I had hoped to do. With any luck, I still have many years ahead of me, and I don’t plan to spend them fussing and fretting about the latest “crisis” as defined by politicians and so-called journalists. Chances are there won’t be much I can do about it anyway. Or that they will, like so many “critical” issues and events, mean either something very different from what we think, or very little at all, at least in the long run. Communism did not enslave the world. (Yes, in part because it was vigorously opposed by the “free world.” But what killed the Soviet Union was not our missiles, bombers or propaganda. It was disgust.)
What’s the most important thing I have learned? It has to do with that frog that sits complacently in a pot of water as a fire beneath it finally heats the water to a boil, to the unwitting detriment of the frog. As I grew older, I was sure that the world was getting worse. Period. People had become as complacent as the frog, and increasingly more entitled. Politicians misled us and stole from us with increasing facility and impunity. The media had become hopelessly shrill and blatantly biased. Vested interests and powerful lobbies had corrupted the agencies built to supervise them. Young people were hopelessly self-centered, foolish, eager to follow every pied piper off any available cliff.
Now I think the world is probably either very little better or very little worse than it was when I was ten. Of course it has changed; it always does, but its basic themes remain largely the same. What has changed, much more than anything else, is me.
I think that much of what I was told and believed over all these years has been wrong, and now, having no allegiance at this point to any credo or dogma, I am in a state of constant discovery and frequent amazement. I find this exhilarating, and intend to enjoy, in my “declining” years, the freedom to see my world without the constraint of preconception, of the need to believe, or the kaleidoscopic frenzy of wishful thinking — all of which have hampered me to some extent my whole life thus far. Time for a change. Change I can believe in. This ought to be fun.