The Golden Age

vcxa8286This is not something anyone can tell you for if they do, you probably won’t believe them. In my 20’s, I thought I knew everything, and I did from my perspective as a twenty something year old. I was the first in my family to graduate from college. I had survived the racial rebellion of the late sixties, college, the war in Viet Nam, (by luck of the lottery draw,) a marriage, and a divorce. I had lived abroad and I held a management position in Corporate America. This is what I believe is referred to as “the know-it-all arrogance of youth.” I knew I didn’t know it all, but I also felt unstoppable, and I was a bit at that time arrogant. As a Black man seeking equality in White America, I had to be.

Then in my 30’s I started climbing the corporate ladder at a fast track pace. My primary focus and measurement of success was how often I received a promotion. I lacked any true personal identity. I was a corporate man in all the material ways. My nickname in the neighborhood was Mr. IBM. I wore three piece suits, drove fine cars and dined with beautiful, intelligent, sexy women. This was truly a “golden age.” It couldn’t get any better than this, or at least that is what I told myself.

During my 40’s I started to ask the important questions concerning the quality of my life. What is important to me? Am I doing the work I want to do? Am I happy? I did not view this self examination as a “crisis.” No, it was an opportunity to switch gears in midstream if I so chose. It was a time of awakening. I left the corporate world and stripped myself naked of the material abundance to which I had become accustomed. I sold the car, gave away the televisions, suits, skis, tennis rackets, and everything else which had become a symbol of the person who no longer existed. I decided to add back only those things which were necessary for my existence in the world. I traveled lightly without all the encumbrances which at one time seemed important and/or necessary. I sought a different way of being in the world. This was my “golden age.” I was free to be me for the first time.

At the age of fifty-two, I found my soul mate. A beautiful spirit who was fifteen years my senior. A woman with whom I could share my heart and soul, and know I would not be judged, only loved, even more, if that was possible. We would be side by side forever, at least that is how we planned it to be. She died eighteen months later during a white water boating accident while on vacation in Mexico with her daughter and grand daughter. They survived. It was during this period of my life that I suffered the greatest despair and agony of all my time in this world. I was ready to give up, but I knew that is not what she would want me to do. So, I kept going. This too was a “golden age”. I received three gifts during this time. I learned the joy and pleasures of love, the heart breaking grief of loss, and the knowledge that life goes on.

Today, I have been on this earth for seventy-one years. As a result of the lessons learned during my 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, I live my life the way I choose. Presently I am retired and living in Cuenca, Ecuador, learning Spanish, and exploring the fascinating world outside my door. Before here, I lived the last three and a half years on Vanua Levu in the Fiji Islands, a hundred yards from the South Pacific. Each segment of my life when examined individually has merit, but when explored in the totality of seventy-one years, it has purpose. I am supposed to be here. There is no doubt in my mind. I only know this due to having lived the life I have lived. I understand the value of life and I am grateful for the time I am allotted. I listen to the echoes of my own life and I am comfortable with my body. This body has endured the most changes over the years and I am grateful for its endurance, strength, and good health.

There was a time during my youth when the future was all I thought about. Today, in truth, I give it very little thought. I have not reached the “know-it-all complacency of old age,” (whatever age that is) and I still have “enough not-yet-calcified intellectual foundation with which to integrate and contextualize” new ideas. I read, I write (poetry, essays, a dabble in fiction), I think, and I dream. For me, life gets better as I grow older because the innocent wonder of the child returns with age, and blends with the wisdom gained through the experience of being alive.

Yes, the mid-twenties to late thirties are a “golden age,” but it is not the only one. Each age of my life has been my “golden age” for what I bring to it from experience, and for what I am learning from it by living. There is not just one golden age for us during our lifetime. There are many. May all your ages be golden. Believe me the best is yet to come.

A Brief Encounter

vcxa8286The only available seats were the two next to her. I took the one against the wall leaving an empty stool between us. Her posture was erect. She must be a student of yoga, I thought a second before the bartender approached and I ordered my drink.

She was young, beautiful. and sexy with sculptured features and long dark hair. Although, she was “blond once,” she shared later. Her eyes were dark caverns into which it would be easy to get lost and in the course of two hours, I did, many times. She was innocence and experience but not in contrast. She carried her sophistication well and that will definitely improve with age. When she walked across the room, every male head turned to watch her shimmer across the floor. Each wished in silence to have her for his own.

Someone needed a chair so she slid into the empty seat between us. She placed herself closer to me. She pondered about starting her life, finding a job, moving out from her parent’s home, and having a boyfriend. We sat facing each other perpendicular to the bar. Searching the essence of ourselves within this minute amount of time. We touched, we laughed, and we celebrated the richness of human connection before it was time for her to head North and home.

After walking her to her car, she placed her arms around my neck and we held one another in an embrace. Those ancient longings, dreams, feelings, and memories of my youth swelled in my loins but I reminded myself I was more than twice her age. She placed a gentle kiss upon my lips and left.

The essence we all have as a physical part of our entity is what connects us and it is not aged based. Only our bodies age, not the essence of who we really are. That night, for a few moments, I was thirty again at least in my own mind.

I will probably never see you again but I will save a seat at the corner bar just in case you come back through town. Thank you, Ali. You are a dream, an ego boost, and a cure for the ailment of aging.

Life’s Last Day

It is a disarming feeling to know I am going to die. No matter how much I philosophize or write on the subject. No matter how much I know it is an unavoidable end for all of life. I am still somewhat unsettled in his presence. I know a little of life, at least my own, but very little of death. We became more closely acquainted a few days ago.

I think it would be easier to face death if our time allotted on this planet was enclosed rather than open ended. We all have a day of birth. What if we were also given a day of death? Would we approach life and death differently. In a previous essay, If You Had 10 Minutes to Live, I suggested we might have discount air fares or special cruises for those who are about to die, but there is also a sinister side to this possibility. Perhaps some would look at this time before death as an opportunity to do unlawful things, to rape, pillage, and plunder without any longterm consequences. What could anyone possibly do to me as I am going to die in a few weeks anyhow? We might take chances and dare death to take us before our time. My cousin Pinto had a dream of him dying of old age with his family gathered around his death bed. He told me this dream has allowed him to take more chances without fear because he believes this is how he will die.

I woke that morning in an uncommon state. My blood pressure was higher than normal. All my vital signs were irregular. I was unsteady and dizzy. At first I thought it might be low blood sugar or dehydration but after eating and drinking the symptoms did not disappear. My entire body felt out of sorts. I was sure this was my life’s last day. How would I choose to spend it? As I did not have a particular plan, I decided to spend it as I do every day I am alive. I could not stand steady in the shower so I sat down and let the water fall upon me and lathered my body. At least I will be clean.

After the shower and getting dressed, I wrote an email to my friends thanking them for their love and support and informing them of my death. I set up the email to automatically send at noon the following day. I did not want to be alone so I gathered strength enough to visit my adopted family here in Loja. Isabel, the family matron and medical practitioner saw me and immediately knew something was wrong.

“My blood pressure is high and I am a little dizzy,” I told her.

As is her healing nature she immediately constructed a list of foods and herbs for me to take while three of her children and I laughed and conversed as usual. When my visit was over, I made my way back home and confronted the eighty steps to my apartment. “Step by step,” I repeated to myself as I was determined to make it to my apartment and not die in the stairwell. My body was completely exhausted by the time I reached my door. I poured a glass of water but dropped it before I could drink it and collapsed on the sofa.

I do not know how long I was out, but I did awaken. I cleaned up the broken glass and blood prints from a piece of the glass I stepped on. The first glass I had broken since moving here over a year ago. I placed a spare key under the mat and wrote an email to Stalin, the oldest of Isabel’s children, informing him of my death along with important information and the pass codes for my computers. I added this to the other scheduled emails.

I tried to meditate but could not focus. I tried to distract myself by watching the television but watching it made the room spin around. I turned it off. I was afraid to go to sleep thinking I might not wake up but eventually I did.

When I woke up, it was 4:30 in the morning. I had not died. I knew this because the neighborhood roosters were crowing and I had to pee. In a few days I would feel normal again and go about my life as I have always done. So it was not life’s last day as I had anticipated. Perhaps it was just a test run. I did gain some new awareness as a result of this experience of dying. My close friends, the people I love most in this world gained greater importance. I have some control over my body, more than I thought, and I know I want to die, when the day comes, in my own home.

Now to get on with living.

Note: The title for this essay was taken from the Criterion film “Youth.” A film about aging, dreams, and memories. I highly recommend it.

On December 28, 2016 I suffered my first serious heart attack. The second minor one occurred on March 17, 2017, one month before my 69 birthday.