For the first time in my life, the president of the United States is younger than I am. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are my rough contemporaries. They would have been seniors when I was a freshman, but I was 12 years old when Barack Obama was born. That was 1961, the year Roger Maris hit 61 homers to break Babe Ruth’s record.
For years, baseball was my measurement of time: 1967 was the year I graduated from high school, but, more importantly, it was the year Yaz won the Triple Crown and the MVP Award. In 1975, Pudge Fisk hit a walk-off homer in the 12th inning of game six of the World Series. In 1986, Roger Clemens won the Cy Young Award and the Sox lost to the Mets in the World Series.
But sometime in the 1980s, it occurred to me that there were no longer any major leaguers older than I was and I started losing track of time.
This year I turn 60, along with folks like Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Meryl Streep and Twiggy. I remember 18 years ago when daughter Tess was born thinking, “Good heavens, I’ll be 60 years old when she graduates from high school.” That was the day before yesterday. Now I’m almost there. Those 18 years passed in a blur of birthdays, Christmases, and soccer games. I’ll be lucky if I have another 18 left. And if they pass as fast as the previous 18, I better start planning the memorial service right now. Either that, or I better start paying attention to each and every minute, hour and day.
It wasn’t the approach of the Big 6-0 that prompted this meditation on aging. It was the death last week of author John Updike at the age of 76. Updike is one of my literary heroes. He was the first writer I encountered (John Cheever and Richard Yates followed) who wrote about the suburban life I knew and lived. I used to make pilgrimages to Ipswich to buy autographed copies of his books and to cruise around town in hopes of running into him.
Older than me but younger than my parents, Updike was something of a precursor for me, going on ahead to tell me about marriage, kids, middle age. He had only just started to get old and suddenly he was gone. At least he made it to 76. I have managed to outlive most of my other heroes. Albert Camus died in a car crash at the age of 47. Dylan Thomas drank himself to death at 39. Jesus Christ was crucified at 33. Maybe I should have chosen more long-lived role models.
When I was young and foolish (day before yesterday), I had a photograph on the wall of my basement bedroom of an old man with a grizzly white beard walking through a field of wildflowers. It was probably some kind of greeting card image, but, at a beardless 16 or 17, it was my vision of who I wanted to become. Now when I look in the mirror, I measure myself against that archetype of age. Wrinkles? Check. Bags under eyes? Check? Grizzly white whiskers? Almost.
Maybe I should start coloring my beard.
The Universal Notebook is Edgar Allen Beem’s weekly personal view of the world around him.