Culture

Five Times Twelve -- Reflections on My 60th Birthday


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In the West, we tend to give birthdays divisible by 10 – 40, 50, 60 – extra significance. The East, at least anywhere that’s been influenced by China in the last 2000 years, tends to pay attention to the twelve years of the Shengxiao 十二生肖, the “Chinese Zodiac” of Rat, Ox, Tiger, and so on; then they add the five Elements of Gold, Wood, Fire, Water, and Earth. This year is the Year of the Wood Goat 木羊年; the last year of the Wood Goat was 1955. The year I was born. Yes, on 24 August 2015, I will officially be 60 years old.

I can’t help but think about that – especially when the managing editor says, “What do you think about that?”

I’ll say, first of all, that having a 60th birthday is much better than not having one – there are a lot of people I knew in years past who didn’t.

That’s not to say that I don’t have some qualms about it. The last month or so, it’s struck me especially as I watch Anthony Bourdain’s shows. He goes to Tunis – yeah, always wanted to go to Tunis. He visits Shanghai – I’ve wanted to visit China as long as I can remember. Tokyo, and I remember I not only want to visit Japan again, but that I’ve never visited Shingu, the town in which my Dad lived. And that reminds me that Dad died when he was 69.

That subtraction doesn’t please me a bit. But that’s also all duhkha, “suffering” that arises from thinking I actually have much of anything to do with it – I could live to 100 or I could be hit by a meteorite before this is published. When I remind myself of the Four Noble Truths I feel better about it.

In the meantime, an awful lot has happened in those 60 years. When I was born, “satellite” was just used in astronomy. You could directly dial a local call, most places, but you had to talk to an operator to make a long distance call. (I want to poll a class of college freshmen and see how many of them know what a “long distance call” even is.) Lots of people, in the San Luis valley at least, didn’t have indoor plumbing yet. Regular color TV was years away.

But that’s enough. I’ve beaten this to death in two articles in PJM in the past. Things are better now.

Things are better now.

 

You may look at 200 years and say “That’s a long time” – but remember, I lived through more than a quarter of that. When I was a kid, India and China were starving; now India exports food and China, well, look at Shanghai.

You’ll find leftists complaining about the loss of Old Shanghai, just like they complain about the changes that may come to Cuba, but I promise you the people in Shanghai like it much better.

Honestly, there’s no reason to expect that to change long term. Objectively, the problem with the Obama years isn’t that things have gotten lots worse, looked at over the long term – it’s that they’ve stopped getting better as fast as we have a right to expect. But the one thing we know about American politics is that things will change. Obama’s term will end, and remember what happened after Jimmy Carter.

If you’re my age, here are some things to remember:

  • You’re probably healthier than your parents were at that age. Medicine has gotten better, knowledge has gotten better. If you have a heart attack, your chances of surviving it are much better; if you get cancer, your chances of surviving are lots better. A lot more of us either never smoked or no longer smoke – that’s a win. And there are hints of much better cancer treatments, much better treatments for other diseases, even treatments for aging itself.
  • In fact, in a lot of ways, you’re younger than your parents were at your age.
  • Which means you’re probably going to see lots more cool stuff.

And that’s my plan. Sixty? So what?