Enjoying the best of Every Age

Lying on my parents’ bed listening to our old Philco table top radio with its shorted out ground wire so you had to put your hand on its back to keep the music louder than the static, I had a thought. This alone was a significant experience for a ten year old brain. It was an occasion worthy to be added to my journal which I didn’t do because 1. I didn’t have a journal, and 2. That would have required energy I could have put into something else like bouncing a ball against a wall, and 3. It was not an earth shaking thought. I had not suddenly settled on my life’s work. No heavenly visions opened to me. My thought was, “I am ten years old. It must be great to be ten years old. It’s a round number. People talk about when they were ten years old as though it was something special.”

That was plenty enough thinking for one day. Why I have remembered that moment every now and then for decades, I have no idea.

But folded up inside that thought was a profundity, sort of like the secret compartment in my Captain Midnight ring, obtained for 15 cents, the top from a Cheerios cereal box, and an endless wait for Ed Patten, the mail man to get it to me. The ring finally arrived followed by the disappointment of discovering I didn’t have any secrets worth putting into the secret compartment.

But now I do. Unfortunately the Captain Midnight secret compartment ring soon stained a green band around my finger. The on-size-fits-all expandable ring part got flattened into one-size-fits-none. The secret compartment became even more secret when I put it carefully away in case I ever got a secret; so carefully that I never found it, or looked for it again, or thought about it until pretty much this minute. If I had it now, I would write this secret in microscopic letters. The hidden compartment was not designed for big, wordy secrets.

The secret is this. Ten years old is a wonderful age; so is twenty, fifty, and I’m assuming the big century mark and beyond. Every age has its charms. One of the advantages of the mature years is that people cut you a little more slack when you don’t perform at Olympic level. Some people even smile, nod, and appear to believe you when you claim, “The older I get, the better I was.”

You get clever, even devious at turning your limitations into advantages. At his retirement a reporter for the New York Times told how he got information from interviews that other reporters didn’t. “I stutter,” he said. “At first I thought this would be a problem. It turned out to be a tremendous advantage. Most people are more or less empathetic to someone who is struggling a bit. They were patient while I sorted out the words. Waiting for me to formulate the next question prompted them to fill in more information to fill up the empty space. Reporters sometimes miss chances because they are in a hurry to move on to the next question. That was not a problem for me. People wondered how mentally capable I was, so they would explain things clearly. They were not as combative and defensive as they would have been with some fast talking pushy reporter.” By using his limitation as a lever instead of a crutch, the man became one of the best in his profession.

My life work is communication using music, humor, stories, writing, speaking, performing, teaching, and personal conversation. Sometimes my mind gets ahead of my memory, and it takes me a moment to come up with the name, the word or the fact I’m after. Rather than staring out into space and leaving an uncomfortable hole in the delivery or conversation, I usually do my mental fishing out loud. This invites my listeners to join in the search. It engages their attention. When they come up with the right answer, they feel good about their success. It also keeps me humble, and helps me avoid pontificating which is always less persuasive than inviting them to join in the search.

This system does not work so well when I am telling a joke or story with a snappy closer. Timing is vital in this kind of delivery, and not having the word available for the punch line moment does make for a deflated joke. But overall it seems to put people more at ease, opens up communication, and I suppose, adds a quaint eccentricity to my persona.

Every age has its opportunities I am finding. It is an interesting journey.