This past Monday was my birthday. I have now lived 696 months. That is 3,027 weeks or 21,184 days old, which comes to 508,429 hours or 30,505,767 minutes or 1,830,346,077 seconds. Those of you who love to do math have already figured out how many years I’ve lived. Sorry, but I’m not going to make it easy for the rest of you.
So if I’m so old, how come I don’t feel old? How come every time I look in the mirror I am surprised to see someone who looks like she should be my mother staring back at me? It is true that I could have given birth to practically everyone who walks the red carpet, just like it is true that I remember when television was black and white and records were played on a hi-fi, and the milk man left glass bottles of milk on the back steps. But I still feel young. Like somewhere around nineteen.
When I was nineteen I was in college. I wore the university uniform of blue jeans, body stockings and Earth shoes. My locks hung past my shoulders and I never wore makeup because I didn’t need it. I was skinny- less than 120 pounds, even though I am over five feet, eight inches tall. I could quote Shakespeare and Chaucer, eat pizza at midnight without getting heartburn, and sing notes as high as Joni Mitchell.
When I was nineteen, I sang with my friend Mary. I would weave silver threads of harmony around her strong golden melodies and together we would entertain long-haired audiences who filled the local bars and coffee houses. Our music was simple- acoustic and eclectic- and we would cover tunes by The Beatles, Donovan and Judy Collins. We practiced in lobby of our dorm, our notes tripping down the steel stairwells, and echoing against the cement walls. We sang for beers and tips and the thrill of hearing the crowd grow quiet when the guitar strummed the opening chords. We sang because with a few notes, we could wear our hearts on our sleeves. With a few notes, we could tell a story that would bring a laugh, or bring a tear. With a few notes, we shared our diaries with those who listened, and by listening, they shared theirs with us. With a few notes, term papers and tuition were forgotten and the world was as one- just for a few moments.
But I am not nineteen any longer. Although I still wear jeans, I have not owned Earth shoes or a body stocking since 1978. My fingers are too arthritic to hold down the strings on a guitar, and my throat strains to hit the high notes. These days, I don’t sing in bars and coffee houses. I sing with the radio in my car and although I can still layer harmonies over melodies, I know my days of singing before an audience are over. But I still have a need to reach others- to bind us together with those things we all hold in common; love, fear, joy, sorrow. Words on pages have replaced lyrics set to music. Instead of sharing songs about lives I have never lived, I write about years I remember. Days I have endured. Moments I have cherished. People I have loved.
Lest you think this story is a sad one, let me remind you that there are perks associated with aging. Now, when I do something foolish, people hug me and call me “cute” instead of pretending they don’t know me. If I try to carry anything heavy, or climb on top of a chair to change a light bulb, my kids freak out and take over the task for me. I like this so much, I may start groaning whenever I have to clean the toilet or empty the trash, in hopes that they’ll take over those chores for me as well.
Younger people think I am old, but older people (and yes, there are people who are older than I) still think I am young. In fact this morning on the elevator, a white-haired gentleman called me “young lady.” Perhaps he is right. After all, I’m only a little over eight years old… in dog years.