Facing the tides of time

I've heard all my life about how fast time flies.

And having been raised Catholic, I was forced to listen to long, mournful, weekly fire-and-brimstone sermons from Father James Lunn, a melancholy, old-style, Irish priest who seemed to feel you mustn't enjoy life unless you wanted to burn in hell for "eternity."

Somehow, though, even while in Uncle Sam's company during our Vietnam adventure, I had some kind of natural buoyancy, or inherent stupidity (God loves those of us who have a hard time learning life lessons); I never took all the death and destruction around me and mine seriously. I knew I would escape, if not unscathed, at least semi-whole.

The first real blow to my delirious style of life was the death of my father when I was 21.

To say I didn't want to face this, to me, brutal fact of our existence - that sooner or later, unless we die young, we lose our parents - sent me into a two-year tailspin involving narcotics and violence and rough living.

I learned a lot of lessons, being one of the only white boys in the part of the inner city I chose to pass 36 months in. Those lessons have stood me in good stead ever since.

But the main thing drugs, and then kicking drugs, gave me was a belief in my own right to do almost anything I wanted as long as that didn't seriously hurt others and as long as I held my own water and took responsibility for my actions.

Coupled with an already inherent tendency toward rebellion against "adult" strictures, my newfound regard of your opinion, whomever you might be, enabled me to marry a black woman in a town, Cincinnati, where integration, much less miscegenation (in most of their eyes), hadn't taken effect when we hitched our wagons in 1975.

Three kids later, after one child died, we moved to Seattle and soon, without cultural strictures against our union, fell away from each other.

I came out of that divorce, at 44, and just picked up where I left off, dating women in their 20s, writing a lot of journalism and completely disregarding all the opinions, including some court officers, that a white man couldn't raise half-black children.

One by one (only two, but it sounds more dramatic), my kids came to me. In their teens my ex-wife and I split their raising, and considering who their parents are, they turned out no worse than their more conventionally raised friends.

So, when I went to Hawaii, past 50, I still didn't truly see myself as being on the wheel of life. But there, disliked purely for the color of my skin, and thrust up against the relative frailty of my body - detached biceps playing soccer, surgeon explaining I might look 40 but my tendons were 50 - I began, for the first time to think of myself as, if not old, older than I was comfortable being.

This lesson from above was compounded when I fell in love with a beautiful 30-year-old Berkeley graduate, a first-generation Southeast Asian woman I met while teaching a writing class in Kauai. We clicked on almost every level, but for the first time in my life I failed to become intimate with a woman I really wanted to be closer to.

Hailing from where she hailed from, she tried gentle hints first. She was always trying to fix me up with some middle-aged woman she worked with. I resisted and she finally said: "You're too old for me."

The shock was more severe than my detached biceps.

We stayed friends, but a part of me never really bought it. In my heart I thought she was as much of an ageist as George W. Bush is a homophobe.

I've had a couple of younger girlfriends since, but I no longer think that fact makes me one day younger. It's testament to my personality, maybe, but that's all.

I don't know for sure if there is a god/God. But I do believe in Life, or Fate, and I am convinced there are lessons we are supposed to learn. I also believe Life/Fate/The Creator keeps giving us the hints we need.

The final straw in the collapse of my ability not to think about the passing of time is seeing my mother, the Eternal Woman, age in front of my eyes.

I go back to Cincinnati once a year, so I cannot avoid seeing the changes in the woman who brought me into this world. She is 88 now, has some heart trouble, and for the first time in nine decades of life, is starting to look her age.

Since 60 and 90 are the big birthdays in our combined lives, I am unable to think of either of us as young. Youthfully old, maybe. But that is quite a different thing.

I have always been a somewhat compassionate person but I never paid much attention to the truly old among us. That has changed. I sought out a job working with the elderly and am now an activities director at a large assisted-living facility.

Most of the residents where I work have some form of dementia. The work is hard and most of my younger friends, in their 30s and 40s, seem surprised I'm doing it.

What they don't realize is the residents I work with, by and large, are closer to my chronological age than they are. Because I am, granted, reluctantly and truculently, getting older.

But no longer young.

Time, dammit, does fly.

Dennis Wilken is a freelance writer living in Queen Anne. He can be reached by email at rtjameson@nwlink.com.<./i>

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