I just turned 75. I got a ridiculous number of congratulatory messages. I found them a bit sad but not because I am undeniably well onto the downslope. Years go by, the slope changes. That’s the way life goes. It also wasn’t because so many messages were from people I did not know by way some kind of reflexive feature of Facebook – “happy birthday, many more.” Thanks. No, what upset me was that the well wishing seemed to set a too low bar for offering congratulations. Che died – was murdered – at 39. So why am I alive? I can hear folks say, but you are no Che. That is true. And it is of course a big part of why I am alive and Che is not. Indeed, that and related observations about the nature of living in a world that is viciously inhospitable to most people’s lives explains why I am alive at 75 and millions upon millions upon millions aren’t. Also, not exactly grist for congratulations.
I just got a present in the mail. It is a t-shirt with a message on it. I am not much for being an ambulatory advertisement and so I have never before worn a mini billboard. But I wear this one today. It is one of the best presents I’ve ever received. Its message: “If you haven’t grown up by age 75, you don’t have too.” I like that.
Different views from different angles, I suppose. But from my perch, the phrase artistically blazoned on my new shirt means if you still haven’t grown up in the sense of “Grow Up Dammit”—don’t bother. And I won’t. And it is because I don’t think the reason I haven’t grown up at age 75 is some genetic error, or personal inadequacy, or even some act of will on my part. I think, instead, that back when I was in my late teens and early twenties, I became what I think the word “adult” ought to mean—but usually doesn’t. I became an adult stuck young. Situations and invocations produced that in me. I didn’t have to work at it. It just flowed unto me. What stopped me from growing up was my coming of age amidst so many people battling against war, racism, and every manner of injustice and doing so in a community bound by a new ethos of solidarity and collectivity and guided by careful, critical, thinking.
What can I say? A half century and a half decade later and here I am, still stuck at twenty. And I am not alone. Others mirror me in that respect, also stuck also due to their own prior circumstances. And we are not clinging to Glory Days, like a ballplayer who lives forever in a fantasy of still playing ball. We know it isn’t still the Sixties. No, we are stuck at twenty because despite muscles, nerves and veins atrophying, misfiring, and clogging, we are still like we were back when. We are still moved by pain and suffering wherever it abides. We are still moved by desire for and belief in attaining better, wherever it surfaces. It is still a low bar, I think, and little cause for congratulation. Regrettably, though, I have to admit that this type of non adulthood is a condition that the machinations of our social situations tirelessly work to extinguish. Okay, so for that reason I guess maybe a tiny congratulation is due those who don’t become adults in the horrid, status quo worshipping, ignore others and enrich self sense.
You want to avoid being an atomistic adult? You want to avoid being pushed and pulled by vile lies and conforming pressures? Think like logic matters. Think like evidence matters. Think like what we choose to address and how we try to communicate what we learn matters. Do that not only to understand what is, but also to win what ought to be. Feel like you matter. Feel like they matter. Feel like everyone fucking matters. The opposite of that is “growing up.” We ought not “grow up.”
When I became 64 it was a bit traumatic. You may laugh, but it was because of the song “When I’m 64.” Give it a listen and you may understand why it weighed on me as that birthday approached. Seventy five is different. It is just impossible to comprehend. Seventy five is what the old folks are, not me. That’s the sixties in my mind, I think. Maybe it is not even healthy, in some respects. But even stuck at twenty here is the truth of the Beatles lyric that is lost to many listeners due to the song’s somewhat jovial, rollicking melody. Aging is no picnic. Aging is a real downer. My father used to periodically quote a favorite poem. The key line was “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be.” Sure—but died of Alzheimers. Cancer got my mother and brother. Dementia got my partner. If you get lucky, just your body wastes away. If luck betrays you, your mind decays too. Them’s the facts, Jack. So here is some unrequested advice from someone 11 years beyond 64.
Forget about age. Address what you can affect. It holds for health. It holds for the world around us. Don’t ever be fooled into thinking the finishing end is at hand. There is no point. Have confidence. Confidence matters a whole lot. In everything. And where confidence may matter most, for everyone, is in changing the world. Have confidence not that you alone can change the world, not that I alone can, not that your friend or mentor alone can, but that we all can, together.
Selfies have nothing to do with winning a better world. Greed is not the highest achievement of humanity. That was what the circumstances of my early years taught me, when selfies didn’t even exist. It is a simple, obvious insight that “grown up” teachers, “grown up” politicians, “grown up” owners, and “grown up” lawyers all try to stamp and stomp into remission, to make you feel like them, to make you be like them. But despite all that, collective desire and confidence may be re-surfacing. It is ultimately quite simple. Are you literally young? Don’t mistake taking orders, following other’s agendas, spouting other’s words, for becoming adult. Don’t become part of the old folks home at the college. The key to not becoming “grown up,” at least as I hear the words, is to believe in the power of people. It is to believe in the power of you and me and everyone who tries to collectively contribute to the one pursuit that undeniably matters above all other pursuits. Not earning more, more, and more. Not winning the next argument, and then the next and the next, at least in the mirror of your own mind. Not even planting the next flower or bestowing the next sincere good wishes or gift on a friend or loved one. What matters is to conceive and attain new institutions, new habits, new lives—before the world of mass-produced buttoned-down, grown ups ends us all. What matters is getting us all to another world.
Mother Jones said it this way: “No matter what the fight, don’t be ladylike! God almighty made women and the Rockefeller gang of thieves made the ladies.”
Don’t grow up. Stay forever young. And I will heed my t shirt. I will try not to grow up in my remaining time, too. Age along with me, sure, time goes by—but stay fucking young.
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