Last week I turned 50. That’s older than I ever imagined being, and it’s older than I imagine I am. Maybe that’s because I think of 50 as old but I don’t think of myself as old.
50 years is both a long period of time and a short one.
It’s funny to look back. I don’t really think of a time before computers and after. Computers didn’t meaningfully exists – to me – until I was about 12. Maybe that’s too young to matter. Cell phones didn’t exist until I was about 30. I don’t really think of a time before cell phones and a time after – they are just something that happened along the way. I do distinctly remember being handed a cell phone and not knowing how to use it.
It’s funny the things that happened that I don’t think about. Everyone knows that cell phones are recent. But I mentioned to a “young” co-worker that I skied growing up and he asked if I meant skiing or snow boarding. I explained that snow boarding did not exist – and that was a revelation to him. Is that what it is to be old? To know when things came into being? To have experienced transitions that younger folks don’t realize happened?
Looking externally, the world has changed much more and much less than one might hope. Growing up, the threat of nuclear annihilation was absolutely real. Just a given. Not so much any more. Russia was the big enemy. Germany was divided. South Africa was under apartheid. None of that was going to change without a lot of bloodshed. But it all did and with practically none. When I was born we were at war with Vietnam. Nobody had walked on the moon. The world population was about 3.5 billion.
The year before I was born – 1967 – there were still 15 states with ‘Anti-miscegenation laws’ (barring interracial marriage). Which is crazy from both perspectives. As a nation we argue about the validity of complaints about the treatment of people of color, but anyone older than 60 can remember a time where it was illegal in about 1/3 of the states to marry someone ‘of the wrong race’. On the one hand it’s nice to think we should just get over it. On the other hand it’s shocking to think that we should already be over it.
50 years before I was born it was 1918. It was WWI. Airplanes were brand spanking new. Automobiles were very recent. Nobody had climbed Mt. Everest. Television was not a thing. Plastics were not a thing. Interracial marriage was illegal in most states (which did not yet include Hawaii & Alaska). Women did not yet get to vote nationally. The theory of continental drift was roundly rejected (pun intended). The world population was about 1.9 billion.
There are people that are 100 years old.
150 years ago – just 3 of my lives back to back – it was 1868. 5 years into the reconstruction after the American civil war. Radio is not yet invented. The electric bulb is not yet invented. I guess people read a lot.
This country is just short of 250 years old. That seems like a long time, and maybe it is. But it’s just 5 of my life spans back to back. Maybe I’m old and that’s a really long time. But that’s not how I feel. I feel like there have been a lot of changes very very recently and we really don’t have all that much experience.
I look back and I’m impressed with all the progress we’ve made. I’m aghast at where we started. I’m shocked at how well things are going in general. I’m frustrated that they aren’t going better. I’m hopeful because we haven’t all killed each other and in general most things really do seem to be going in the right direction. Slowly, and yet insanely quickly.
Is being old the ability to blather on for a long time? If so, I’ve been old for a while 🙂