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Sunday, December 26, 2010

I'll Be 60 Soon

I will turn 60 on February 4. This birthday is a watermark in my life with a definite acknowledgment of longevity. Still, I don't think much about my age, but I think quite a bit about my past -- the feelings and lost reality of years gone by. My reminisces are bitter, sweet, and often indifferent. Now, many loved ones are gone; other friends have scattered; and longing, a sure sign of stumbling progress, occupies a larger share of my mind.

Without the slightest effort, I can associate with the past. For example, I was watching an HBO documentary about legendary coach Vince Lombardi a couple of days ago. Lombardi died of intestinal cancer at age 57 on Sept. 3, 1970. While marveling at his successful career and determined, one-of-a-kind personality, I couldn't help but think about his being only 57 when he passed away. I wondered what current medical procedures may save a cancer patient with similar malignancy. Then, I remembered cancer patients in our family and the toll the disease took. I remembered when the words cancer and death were synonymous. I felt the pain. 

These flashes of my life occur without warning and seem to be triggered by minor sensory reactions to everyday things. Sights such as sparkling eyes or a smile, sounds like a familiar song, even smells and textures evoke thoughts etched into my brain long ago. Now, these reactions are much more a part of my everyday persona. Their importance has solidified my interpretation of life.

The depth of these memories seems to grow more every year in my life, a life that has become more sensory deprived. It seems as if the brain compensates for the afflictions of the flesh and bones. I witnessed this early in life when I noticed many older people recounting stories and sharing thoughts of their truly interesting life experiences. I found that the passions and the desires of senior citizens do not dwindle to ashes as they age. If anything changes at all, the seniors use their acquired perspective to ferment feelings to their peak.

As much as I would like to say that my faults and my strengths have changed over the years, I really believe they have only tempered. True, experience now allows me to understand more about my own life and regret serious mistakes, yet my inner guide often has to be foiled -- repeatedly defeated and lost in new ideas before it can accept new paths that lead to change. When something feels unnatural within my zone of sensory perception, my gut rolls until I finally find, or am forced to find, some association that helps effect a new opinion.

I contend that distance from adventure, spontaneity, and simple excitement does not make an older mind lose its taste for the intended actions. One's age does not diminish cravings and desires.The older person merely learns to understand his new place in the perceptions of those around him. His imagination doesn't dull although he may not act out his thoughts.

I have lived for many years with clinical depression and OCD. I began treatment for depression in 1984 and taught 17 more years while struggling to control its symptoms and dealing with repeated debilitating outbreaks.While accepting disability from the State Teachers Retirement System, I languished in guilt for many years. With only 27 years of experience, I felt as if I had not completed my duties. In my mind, my status had changed from an effective teacher to a defective patient. I so cherished my past profession.

During the transition from whole person to a mental patient, I became very conscious of the reactions of others if I shared with them the outcomes of my illness. To be quite honest, I found people dehumanized anyone with a mental ailment. By outward expression and reaction, those around me offered help and sympathy, yet either because of my over-sensitivity or because of a combination of my sensitivity and their distrust, I understood that I had become "different." This "different" was permanent.

Once "different," one cannot change its effects or deny its stark reality. As a "different," I began living a life encumbered with certain restrictions. The "talk behind," the secondary social position, the "damaged goods" -- all these reactions came to the surface, but mainly expressions were subtle or apparent only upon closer inspection. Eventually, other people's distrust surfaced in many situations, and, in truth, this suspicion might have been well deserved given my track record.

Unfortunately, as these reactions accumulated in my interpretation (whether illogical or sound), I found a hardened veneer helped me repel most of the attitude of others. I seemed to suck more pleasantries into my personal space and venture less for others to criticize. I became a preservationist of my own special personal archives in hopes they would someday find expression.

I'll be 60 years old soon. I have had a good life. Like all others, I have been stamped and deposited in a box. To accept the life within the box is perhaps the hardest part of aging and living a unique existence. My box is decorated with many furnishings from my past. As I continue to rearrange the furniture, I can assure you my brain and my senses are acute. Maybe I long for ability, but I don't suffer for lack of sensitivity for those things that have been imprinted in my head and in my soul. I cannot help but think that more purpose for my petty existence will be revealed someday.

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