When the Beatles released the Sgt. Pepper album back in 1967, I was 12 years old and a major fan of the band (still am, of course). One track on the album seemed to me to be sentimental, old-fashioned and nice in a novelty-song kind of way. Well, it doesn’t seem such a novelty to me now that I am 64! It’s strange how time passing changes your point of view on things. When I was growing up, it seemed that the Second World War had happened generations before, but now I’m so aware that it ended just ten years before I was born. Ten years is not a long time: 2009 does not seem that long ago, does it?
I really started thinking about this a few weeks ago, when the Times writing staff were having our regular meeting. One young member, who shall remain nameless, said that they had learned about Watergate in school. I was stunned. I was in university when that was happening. My first political activity was going to an anti-Vietnam War rally. I remember being radicalised by reading about the Kent State killings of students, people not much older than I was.
For years, I thought of myself as a young person, always waiting to be told to shut up and go home by my elders. Now I’m the elder and people are still telling me to shut up and go home! But my body is telling me in no uncertain terms that I am slowly (or not so slowly) wearing out. It seems odd to think that I’ll never again have the sensation of running so fast that my feet didn’t seem to be touching the ground.
To add to the fun, I got a letter from the Canadian Government this week. Usually, those brown envelopes make me either nervous or happy. The government is usually either demanding money from me in taxes, or giving me money as tax rebates. This time, the letter made me both nervous and happy: it informed me that, and I quote: “We have good news – you are eligible to apply for your Canada Pension Plan retirement pension online!”
Perhaps you can understand my ambivalent reaction to that news?
Now, it is a fact of life that we’re all getting older. At some point this fact becomes more immediately relevant than before. For goodness sake, I remember singing “Old Man” by Neil Young: “24 and there’s so much more”. Can’t sing that these days. And don’t even remind me of the Who! Pete Townsend writing “hope I die before I get old”. Of course, Roger Daltrey is still singing that, and he’s ancient!
But I don’t want you to think I’m complaining, even if you think this is all very irrelevant to you and self-indulgent for me. I happen to think that my generation, the infamous Baby Boomers, were the most blessed of generations. Post the Pill and pre-Aids; socially mobile and the generation that began to see the start of feminism succeeding; the best music ever; new technologies making life easier and more enjoyable. We saw things change in ways that had never happened before: vinyl to cassettes to cd’s to mp3 and digital downloads, then back to vinyl again.
I wrote my Masters thesis on an IBM Selectric Typewriter, my PhD dissertation on a university’s mainframe computer, and then had a personal computer sitting on my desk that could do more than anyone ever imagined was possible on such a handy device. I can remember the awe with which we heard about the first heart transplant ever, the first test tube baby, and so many medical breakthroughs we almost take for granted now.
Why am I telling you all this? I don’t really know: except that we are all, in our own way, in the same boat. The details may be different, but we’re all moving to the time when there’s more to look back on than to look forward to. And that’s fine too, because I haven’t finished looking forward: I am fascinated to see whatever is next, here and hereafter. As Larry Norman once sang: “I know where I am going and I know who I should be. Don’t care how long it takes me, ‘cause there’s lots of things to see. Let the tape keep rollin’!”
As a Christian, I am looking forward to the next stage of living, whenever that starts. And I sincerely hope that, for as long as possible, I’ll live up to Jesse Winchester’s great description of himself: “I’m older than I act, and younger than I Iook”. So, before I go home, I shall treasure the past, enjoy the present, and look forward to the future: let the tape keep rollin’!