"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Saturday, September 12, 2015

At age 60, a time for reflection

An old high school friend was in town recently. These conversations can be predictable. We talk about the infirmities of our parents. Many of my age have said goodbye to their parents. In the case of this friend, a new development is that his mother is in a nursing home. This had to be done even though family members were available to be with her all the time.
Strange how God created us to become so delicate. Medical science is a miracle for extending life. On the flip side, age does catch up with all of us. It's even catching up to us boomers even though we always swore it wouldn't. Granted, 70 may be the new 60 or whatever. Still, we deal with mounting health issues at some point, and it's not pleasant no matter when it happens.
I turned age 60 this past January. We get philosophical as we reach the various age milestones. I'll quote Dean Chance, the Minnesota Twins pitcher of the 1960s: "Everybody, by the time they're 50, they're selfish as hell. Everybody thinks only of himself or herself. Then, when they hit 60, they want to return to religion and want to forgive everybody. They want to go to heaven, and that's the stage I'm in."
My generation was slow getting into the mainstream of church-going. A few of us decided to become overly zealous about religion, as if it was an all-or-nothing proposition. We were great for getting obsessed about certain things or causes - a trait that made us the complete opposite of our parents.
My Morris High class had its 40-year reunion in 2013. A shrinking number can even talk about their parents in the present tense. We are simply following the path of all generations. We find we are less and less relevant for the cultural trends in bloom.
In another ten years, our children will be watching over us out of concern we're getting brittle. The great Doug Rasmusson wrote about this. Doug would be having a field day with the Internet. He did the best he could in his time, getting self-published. Doug wrote that at a certain advanced age, he found his children would pay occasional visits, not just for the inherent joy of being with parents, but to "check on" the parents in a spying sort of way - sorry if that word is blunt.
Doug imagined the two children touching base with each other after each visit, wondering if the parents were indeed fit to stay at home longer. He pointed out an example of what might prompt concern by the kids: a peanut butter jar in the cupboard with the lid off. A sign of declining mental faculty or just a typical cutting of corners that anyone might commit? Well, Doug sensed what was going on.
My family has had two visits from Human Services, one for each of my parents. It's rather unnerving. You are always put on the defensive. Secondly, with many very old people, you cannot create a perfect day-to-day lifestyle for them. There are going to be some struggles and some physical hurdles that cannot be completely overcome. If you're my age, you know exactly what I'm talking about.
I remember an impassioned letter to the editor in the Star Tribune. It implored us to realize that in many cases of alleged elder neglect or abuse, there really are two sides to the story. Elderly people can become angry that they are being forced, often by the children, to give up some of their freedoms. Simply put, growing old is difficult.
At age 60, I'm prompted at this time of year to think back to school. School was enjoyable for me through the sixth grade. It became steadily miserable after that. To this day, I wonder why it isn't good enough to simply master basic arithmetic - adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing - and to memorize multiplication tables. Those tables were burned into my mind. Eight times eight is 64.
I don't know why I had to be dragged into so-called advanced math, where you're confronted with all the theoretical stuff. My self-esteem was slammed as I realized I couldn't cut it. At a certain point I probably got excused from some of these requirements on a wink-wink basis by administration. I think this is called "mainstreaming," to leave a kid progressing with his peers even if he's clearly stumbling.
Reading and writing? That was my bread and butter. This is why I might have gotten excused from the other stuff. "How can Williams be so hopeless" when he clearly can write well? If only the teacher knew that my literacy came more from "unapproved" reading sources, like comic books, Mad Magazine and sports magazines, rather than school reading assignments.
School reading assignments? Why in the world did we have John Steinbeck thrust at us? Or Jack London? Or Herman Melville? Maybe Steinbeck was relevant in the 1930s. Maybe George Orwell projected a certain fascination at a certain time. I found his "Animal Farm" to be depressing and political.
Today with the Internet enabling so many people to share their writing skills with so many, it seems stupid to even pay attention to the "classic" authors. What made them "classic?" They wrote at a time when getting published was a very restricted proposition - the opposite of today. The barriers to distribution have come down.
I remember a Morris High instructor telling us not to quote from American Heritage Magazine, because it was "superficial." Spoken like a typical pretentious academic boor. Our schools were full of them then.
I question why kids even need to be pushed so hard in school today. The jobs of the future will be designed to impose minimal mental strain or demands. That's so the pay level can be kept low. If it helps to have pictures on the buttons you push, so be it. Only if you're destined to be a corporate leader do you really have to push your education to a high level.
Most of the best learning is done on the job anyway. May John Steinbeck rest in peace.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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