How Different IS it?

It’s a different world… I mean a really different world. This is probably going to turn into a bitch session, I can already tell. Every time I experience how different life is these days, I’m also reminded that much of it is because I’m old, and for most of my years, daily life has been different… very different.

I never wanted to be an old man, never wanted to sound the way my dad sounded sometimes. Now I am an old man, and am proud whenever I sound like my dad. Seems the longer we live, the funnier life gets.

I, like some of my friends, decided early on to live life to the fullest, to not spare the horses, as it were. Smoking, drinking too much, partying… they were all a part of “living to the max” as far as we were concerned. We would occasionally admit that we probably wouldn’t live to an old age, and that was okay, as long as we “really lived.” Never occurred to us that if we really lived to an old age, we’d probably be fairly beat up, tired, and as we used to say in Montana, “rode hard and put up wet.” I can tell you that, as I write this, that’s pretty much how I feel these days. But it’s a good feeling, kind of like a deep exhaustion with a huge smile. No pain, not much broken, but damn, what a trip!

The world now is so damn different from the world I grew up in… I went through this phase of realizing that old people don’t fit in a new world, and wondered at length why that is. Been going on for centuries. Do old people just dummy up and not get the new world anymore?? And then it hit me. Why did I just call it “a new world?” Ha! It’s beginning to be more clear. It is a new world to old folk, regardless of how slowly and seamlessly it seems to evolve. In the last two centuries, a normal life span has seen incredibly dramatic changes, and since the turn of the 20th century, a normal lifetime has seen the change from the horseless carriage to the Ferrari, the Wright Brothers flight to wide-body jets across the great oceans. But is that any excuse to slowly fall behind the times just because one “gets old?”

For much of civilization, that answer would be “no.” I knew that to be true, and that’s where I was stuck until, one night, I started to do the math… the math that might help explain why we old ones seem to struggle with change – especially fast, radical change.

I began figuring, charting and remembering. Here’s what I found. For starters, I used dial and touch-tone landline phones for 55 years, some version of a cell phone for 15. I lived for 42 years before I had my first computer… a Commodore 64 K. Starting to get the picture? Video games didn’t exist, of course, and the first video game I ever played was Super Mario when I was 45. Our communication and information networks were the library and newspapers. For over 40 years I was sure that the Dick Tracy wrist radio was the most modern communication device we’d ever see.

I had a roll-o-deck for the first twenty years of my business life. Electric typewriters didn’t come out until my junior year in high school. (1961) I drove my first car with an automatic transmission when I was 19. We got our first black and white TV set when I was 17. I didn’t get a color set until I was 29. I flew on several DC-3’s and one Pan Am Constellation. Flew in my first passenger jet when I was 25, an American Airlines Boeing 707 out of Boston at Christmastime. I remember it was the thrill of a lifetime for me.

The 049 Constellation

Language especially leaves us behind. In their strange, but understandable need to separate themselves from their elders, the youth formulate new words, new phrases that help them define their culture from our moldy one. I still struggle to be “down for it,” when I was “up for it” for about 57 years. I’ve never been “now,” “happenin’,” “cool” or hip. Oh, I tried to be, natch. And perhaps there was a very small window in the late ’60’s, early ’70’s when I might have actually, albeit briefly, been “cool.” Probably the day I bought prescription sunlgasses…

Small reward for shooting all around the target but never hitting it. And it gets worse. Today, I can honestly say I’m not stoked, woke, dope or lit. Y’all can have that new crap… all of it. I no longer have the tiniest desire to be “the shit.” Simply doesn’t matter, because now I know why we old ones sometimes struggle to be current. It’s a time thing, and if anyone dislikes or disses our reluctance for meaningless change, they can bite me! (Growl.)

As far as “never having been the shit” goes, That’s true. However, I knew a half dozen people in Atlanta and a few in Montana who truly were the shit. I tried to hang with them, hoping some of what they had would rub off on me. I watched them until I realized they had something I wasn’t ever going to have…  a totally relaxed attitude about everyday life that made them appear to have done all this before. I admired them and envied them. At times i felt like they could see right through me, and were quietly amused. The best example I can think of is the Doppler crew…  what a great group of fun-loving folk who worked hard and played hard. My god, I could have learned so much more if my stupid roller coaster ego hadn’t gotten in the way.

I’ve grown to feel that it’s very cool to be get old, and to be old. We’ve survived life up to this point, after all… this life with all its rigors and trials. I’ve heard people say that god will never give us more than we can handle. Bullshit. I’ve had friends, both religious and non-spiritual, who were broken by life happenings and personal loss that was too much for them. And I’d bet you know someone like that. It’s also not true that “Only the good die young,” nor is this one, “Only the strong survive.”

I sense that the youth judge us old ones by how we look, rather than what we have accomplished. It would be impossible and silly to wear our accomplishments on our sleeve for all to see. And do we continually leave them a screwed-up world? We sure do, despite our best intentions to leave this world a better place than we found it. Many of us have given our children a better world to grow up and live in, but on the larger scale there is little most of us can do to “right the bigger ship.” And as we get old, we realize that it is enough to simply circle the wagons and do the best we can for our loved ones.

I can’t help but wish the young ones understood that when we were their age, we moved quickly and talked quicker too, keeping up with the speed of the day, which, admittedly, was slower than today’s breakneck pace. I wish the young ones understood that we accomplished much with our lives, that we had challenges and deadlines much as they do today. I wish they understood, as some cultures do, that to survive and thrive to old age is a respectable, even honorable accomplishment that they might at least understand and acknowledge. And I wish they understood that many of us, now slow and bent, were more courageous and adventurous in our youth than they are today.

Ah well. I’ve managed to wish and wish another morning away. Time for lunch and a nap. If anyone under 50 is reading this, I strongly advise them to “get amped,” live it to the max, as it is possible to survive it all to an old age, then smile back on it all with contentment. For when the day finally comes (usually all too soon) when your old and tired body can no longer chop the wood or carry the water, it will be your fond memories that will warm you on the chilly winter’s eve.

Steve Hulse

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