Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Old man Stafne

I want to apologize in advance to those of you who might inadvertently find yourselves the target of my harmless wrath. But the next time I hear somebody complain about having another birthday, I might just have to scream. I turned 33 years old last week. And I enjoyed every minute of it.

Birthdays haven't excited me much in the last decade. I was like your average kid I suppose, always looking forward to my next birthday, hoping for a ton of presents and attention, counting my age in half-years. Remember proudly exclaiming to a total stranger that you were 7 and a half? I can't wait until November 10th. I'm going to revive that tradition. On one of my most memorable birthdays, mom & dad took me and my friends to McDonaldland on Robert Street in St.Paul. I can still recall sitting up high in the Hamburgler's head, looking down on a blanket with cheeseburger wrappers strewn all over it.

But after turning 16 and being able to drive, and turning 21 and being able to legally make an @ss out of myself at a bar, I don't really recall getting very excited about my birthday. No offense to those of you who gave me a present of course. But I think that's when I started to buy in to our society's wildly inflated fear of getting older. I started to dread the idea of turning 30, 40, 50, and dear God no, 60! As if those birthdays would somehow arrive with dark clouds, ominous music, and a doctor who was a little too eager to check my internal plumbing.

Certainly getting older isn't a cakewalk. You start to get wrinkles. Ketchup becomes 'too spicy'. You get less and less action in both the bathroom and bedroom. You have to deal with those damned meddling teenagers. And everyone just assumes that your favorite TV show is 'Matlock'. You're clothes might as well say 'Old Fart' on them. Speaking of old people, can anybody remember where the heck the term 'cakewalk' comes from? It doesn't make much sense when you think about it.

I've often thought about the idea of being elderly. What will my quality of life be like? Where will I live? Will I still have any teeth left to brush? I've heard many people comment that they'd rather die young than go through the pain and struggle of getting old. I will never think those thoughts again. I will savor every birthday. Because with all the difficulties that aging brings, you know what's the most important gift you get on your birthday? Time. Time to spend with your family. Time to watch your kids, your grandkids, growup. Time to share your history and wisdom. No matter how much time you might have left, you should celebrate having been given another year.

I dream every day of being an old man. Of having coffee with my wife in the afternoon. Of sitting in a rocker and throwing a purple foam brick at the TV when the Vikings blow another game. Of getting a hug from my grandchild who still has no idea how those few seconds are worth more than all the money in the world.

I'm 33 years old, well less than half the life expectancy of a man in this country. My friend Andy and I used to sit around in high-school and joke about playing chess in a nursing home when we were old and gray. Andy died when he was 29. But I would still love to have that chessboard ready and waiting for him when I'm 75. So the next time you feel down about having another birthday, think of me. Think of Andy. Think of all the other people that would love to be there celebrating with you if they could. And enjoy the gift of time granted you.


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Anonymous said...

I thought I'd look it up for you Scott . . .

cake·walk (kāk'wôk')
1. Something easily accomplished: Winning the race was a cakewalk for her.
2. A 19th-century public entertainment among African Americans in which walkers performing the most accomplished or amusing steps won cakes as prizes.
3a. A strutting dance, often performed in minstrel shows.
3b. The music for this dance.

intr.v., -walked, -walk·ing, -walks.

To perform a strutting dance.

cake'walk'er n.

Also found:
"Most authorities consider that this saying goes back to the days of slavery in the USA. The slaves used to hold competitions to see which couple could produce the most elegant walk. The best promenaders won a prize, almost always a cake. The extravagant walk required for this type of competition came to be called a Cakewalk and this gave rise to the old fashioned expression 'it's a cakewalk'. However the meaning later came to emphasise the trivial nature of the competition and began to imply that the effort needed was minor and of little account."