All men reach that point in their lives when they become RED, Retired and Extremely Dangerous. Of course that is not in the Bruce Willis film version of life, don’t we wish. No, I speak of the “ideas” we get in our heads that put us in Harms Way, that Kind of RED. Here we are, going on sixty five and believing that we have the bodies of a twenty five year old. Now for me, I am not like the others, my body is twenty seven. Well, maybe twenty eight, not not a day over, mind you. I believe you are as young as you feel and I often feel like eighty even though I am sixty seven, no wait, I am sixty eight. Did I skip a year, can’t remember. It’s my age that has problems of senility, not my brain. Now what were we talking about….it’s on the tip of my tongue like a foul tasting medication. Oh yes, all those of your who are RED. Now I remember, all those men who have problems of accepting their age.
I remember as a child that I was forever fighting my age. Parents didn’t help that problem much with their excuses like, “When you’re a big boy.” Or “When you’re a little older.” No one admitted under a certain age or you must be an adult to do this thing or what have you. When I was six I couldn’t wait to be eight, the age one could become a Cub Scout. Later on the magic age is eleven for a Boy Scout. Then fourteen to be an explorer. Yes, I belonged to that old world when scouting actually was fun and was important to a great many of us kids. Our culture has all these age check-offs from rights of passage to true manhood. The great transition from grade school to junior high and hence onward to high school and perhaps college are other demarcations. Now I see that some fool thought it would be a good thing to put ten year olds in with fourteen year olds in the public school system, not the most brilliant of ideas.
Then there is the proverbial Summer Camp where one is classified into age groups by the use of fish and animals. Beginning swimmers are minnows and one only wants to linger in that category as briefly as possible. Meanwhile one is segregated into bunk houses where the oldest are the top of the food chain and the youngest are the worms upon which the older ones prey upon. Childhood is that period of time when we start to learn about that idea of place in society as an adult. Now days so much emphasis is placed on fairness by well meaning educators and social idealists. But the point of childhood is to prepare the child to make that transition into the adult world as a functioning adult. All these social idealists have an image that the world should be one big happy place where nothing bad ever happens. It seems that they have forgotten the lessons of nature. I can thank Walt Disney for a more realistic appreciation of my world, my brother and I saw a couple of his nature films such as The Living Desert. We learned that being cute isn’t much protection from the world or predators. Indeed, in nature the world does what it does best, it promotes survival and sometimes luck can kill the strongest and let the weakest survive another day. Nature does not operate on the principle of fairness. When we omit to inform our children of these principles we do them a great disservice.
Age is time past, time present, and time in the future. As children we often live time in the future. We want to know what we are going to do at some point in that future. I want to be a jet pilot or a firefighter or a soldier or an engineer. What kind of work sparks our imagination. My older brother knew at the age of twelve he wanted to be an electrical engineer. I never really had that same one vocation commitment he expressed. I wanted to be almost everything. I could imagine myself operating heavy machinery or flying aircraft or fighting fires (although firefighting never seemed all that interesting to me) or being the military hero. I wanted it all. In the end I settled for working at a number of vocations. We also picture life in the future in terms of our social futures. Maybe we want to be the international playboy and date lots of women. Maybe we want a more subdued life of wife and family, perhaps going to church on Sunday and the work around the yard on Saturday. When we are young we tend to live in the future. Few of us ever picture ourselves retired like our grandparents and gardening or traveling or whatever grandparents do for a living. When I was ten my best friend and I tried to visualize what it might be like when the year 2000 came and how old we would be. I found it difficult to comprehend living until I was fifty three.
Once a man reaches fifty life changes. We start looking back at the past. Maybe we are earning the income that supports that high powered sports car or speed boat. Perhaps we start taking flying lessons or take up mountain climbing. Ten K marathons and century bicycle tours are good as is the first motorcycle. If we were incautious as teens and young adults, we become positively devil may care high risk takers as we get older towards retirement. Nothing like facing death before one has to settle for the rocking chair. Hell, at fifty I’m not an old man, I’m better than those youngsters half my age. I can be Superman every day of the week and twice on weekends. If youth is wasted on marijuana then old age is wasted on adrenalin. Al Bundy is just as tough at fifty as he was at eighteen.
Now I’m sixty eight and still doing stuff. Working on housed, felling seventy, eighty, hundred foot trees by myself. Take that you whippersnappers. Fact is, I do get downright dangerous to myself and maybe others. Working on jury rigged scaffolding, roofing slopes greater that 3/8 pitch (three foot rise, eight foot run), moving very heavy stone in the hot sun on a hundred degree day. I am invincible, I am RED.