"Let It Be" (song), "To 'Joy My Freedom", 1969, Accomplishments, Birth Year, Career, Falling Short, Family, Future, Living This Long, Marriage, Mortality, Self-Criticism, Self-Reflection, Tera Hunter, The Beatles, Unfinished Business
As I’ve said in other settings and on my blog, I never dreamed of making it to 30 growing up. Fifty might as well have been 150 for me when I was in the middle of my Boy @ The Window years! But, with my forty-ninth birthday and the calendar change to 2019, I’m here anyway. A half-century (starting sometime in March) between conception and me being just old enough for my son and my students to see me as a fossil. To think that I was Egg #3 in one of my Mom’s ovaries this time 50 years ago? I’m sure I just creeped myself and a large number of you out with that strand of my imagination!
But this isn’t just my Year 50. There are some 500 people I know from my Mount Vernon public schools days, from my years at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon, and from other settings who’ll turn 50 this year. Among the Mount Vernonites and New Yorkers I’ve known directly, between a handful who graduated with the Class of ’86, and with the exception of a couple who graduated with my class in ’87 a year early, almost all from my high school days will turn 50 between now and January 2, 2020 (One notable exception is a classmate whose forty-ninth birthday isn’t until April, but…).
What does all of this really mean, anyway? Have I used up more than half of my youth? Will I shrink immediately? Will my joints, which only ache on occasion, grind me into oblivion and infinite pain at the same time? Will my steel-trap mind become mush? Or, will I finally harness my lost dunking ability, in one last grand gesture of youth, getting my head above the rim one last time, before crashing down to earth and fracturing my metatarsals? Who knows!
What I do know is that I’ve been keenly aware of my mortality since my summer of abuse in ’82, and off and on since the summer of ’76. With a milestone such as this, and the average life expectancy of Black males at 64.5 years, I can’t help but think it. Will I make it through middle age? Heck, will I make it long enough to see my son graduate from high school and earn a higher education degree? Will my wife outlive me (probably), and if so, by how much?
Mostly, though, I’ve had dreams about the plausibility that I haven’t done enough in my life, and what little I have achieved could be turned to ash in an instant. Especially by an indifferent-to-openly-hostile and virulently racist nation-state. I’ve had dreams about losing my jobs because I was forty-five minutes late to lecture for one of my classes. I’ve worried about whether I could ever publishing another article again, even though my track record the past four years has been at least pretty good. I’ve worried about never publishing a book in the mainstream, about leaving my son and wife with nothing, about the possibility that not everything will work out, for me and for us. I also worry about not doing enough to support my family, my friends, even strangers, knowing that I can barely save myself in the here and now, much less anyone else.
But perhaps God has more in store for me beyond Year 50. Dare I hope to be healthy and relatively youthful and around long enough to live past 70, 80, even 90? My grandfathers lived until they were 90 and 97, my aunts on my father’s side are both in their late eighties, and my father (despite a 40-year battle with the bottle) is nearly 80 himself. We’ll see.
I just hope that my youth battery is on the plus side of fifty percent, and not on the minus side. Part of me feels like I’ve only just started living, not out of mission, faithful desperation, or obligation, but out of a sense of it all being worth it, of me actually being worth it. I’ve traveled all over the US, to Alaska during the summer solstice, to Canada, to the US-Mexican border. But it was all for work, to present at conferences, to visit family, to give my son a sense of the world. Except for my honeymoon and other marital excursions, I’ve only traveled a couple of times just to experience the world. Despite my disdain for humanity, I still want that, for me and for my family. I can’t get there, though, on my current double-adjunct, full-time equivalent salaries. This must change.
If it all continues to work out, let it be this year, my God, let it be, let it be. For “there will be an answer, let it be” — eeeeee! (It’s not so interesting to quote a song from The Beatles final studio album, the title song released when I was just a bit more than two months old.) To misquote Princeton professor Tera Hunter’s 1996 book, let it be that I “‘joy my freedom,” that I give myself permission to do so, that my life gives me more opportunities to do so. Let Year 50 be about more than just Nixon and Vietnam, the Moon landing and the FBI’s infiltration of the Black Panther Party, about Woodstock and the Jets and Mets winning titles. Let it be that I have as keen an understanding of my future as I do of the past.