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    When Is Old Old?

    Photo By Christopher Turner

    By Dr. Tim Seelig–

    Is age really just a number?

    Take yourself back in time. It could be a month, a year, or decades ago. When was the very first time you thought, “I’m getting old”? Now, go back one more time. When was the first time you had the courage to say, “I feel old,” out loud?

    It’s not unlike some coming out stories. When some finally have the courage to come out about their sexual orientation, they are sometimes disappointed when people say, “Duh.”

    It’s the same with “I’m old.” You get one of two responses. It’s either, “Oh no, you’re not!” (check for growing noses or fingers crossed behind backs) or, “Yup” (honest friends).

    The adage “age is just a number” is exhausting. Really? Sure, age is a number. But it is so much more than that, too. Everything we do is based on it. Get a pencil and put a number next to the following:

    • kindergarten
    • driver’s license
    • high school
    • drinking age
    • got married
    • mid-life crisis
    • became a grandparent
    • AARP and movie discounts
    • retirement
    • social security

    There are a lot of moving age targets in the middle of all of those, of course. Fill in your own. You know I grew up in Texas, so the numbers are a bit scrambled. Those who weren’t Baptist didn’t drink—in front of each other. Drinking and driving started before high school and sometimes marriage.

    Why, you ask, would you wander in the murky waters of the age discussion? Must we discuss painful things such as this?

    There are several reasons:

    1. I have recently visited granddaughter #2 in Texas. OMG. Two years old.
    2. I just had a birthday. Unremarkable number. Not really interested in being this age.
    3. I have spent a great deal of time this month arranging for my Dad, who is 93, to move from independent living to assisted living.

    When is old old? Well, it depends on if you are talking about milk or wine! Or yourself.

    Feeling old is not helped by living in a city where the young’uns literally rule. I would not even begin to analyze millennials. There are tomes that cover the topic. And even those well-thought out, thoroughly-researched conclusions are defied every single day by a generation that refuses to be defined.

    My own days are not helped by conducting a chorus that keeps getting younger every year, instead of the opposite. I absolutely feel old when they bring their suggestions for music and their blank looks at my mention of Sondheim, Cole Porter or Gershwin. How about when the musical guest comes on Saturday Night Live and you are way not interested in them?

    I felt old when I first came out many years ago and began conducting a chorus of people much younger than I. I learned very early on to keep my mouth shut, smile and then run out to try to find that music (all prior to YouTube, iTunes, Spotify, etc.).

    At that point, I had basically spent the first 35 years of my living in two places: church and the opera stage, some of it in Europe. I missed all the pop music of the 70s and 80s. When the millennium approached, my chorus did a retrospective of the last century. When it got to the 80s, the medley had what was apparently a very popular tune that I did not recognize—at all. They sang through it and then I said … wait for it, “Do you think the audience will recognize the song ‘Thriller’?”

    I never lived that down. Eventually, I just had to move!

    Now, back to my Dad. Yes, I am starting to see the tell-tale signs of age in myself. I have certainly watched it up close and personal in my Mom, who passed 6 years ago, and now my Dad. Not unlike many of you, I had a fragile, even troubled, relationship with my Dad, the Baptist preacher. Mom and Dad moved into independent living just as I was moving here. Mom died the next year and Dad had been doing well until last February. He fell and broke his hip. Then, my only brother died of brain cancer followed by Dad having serious cranial surgery for advanced melanoma.

    A month ago, the independent living facility called me—the only offspring left—to say Dad no longer qualified for the “independent” part and they needed me to come and make other arrangements. Unbeknownst to Dad, I toured assisted living locations, selected one, signed him up, arranged for people to pack his things, take 2/3 of them to Goodwill, the rest to his new home—then told him.

    Needless to say, he didn’t take it very well. But we’ve talked multiple times every day. I’ve been back twice to help in the last 3 weeks. My husband and I will be going to Fort Worth to help with the move this very week.

    Every single day, I must tell him that he is going to have to let go—of things and control. You can imagine that I am a bit controlling. I learned it at his knee! It is heartbreaking to watch and know the pain. I do not want to be where he is. And I do not want to do this to my own children and grandkids.

    One of the imponderables for me is that I spent my entire early life singing songs about the joy of going to heaven—pearly gates, streets of gold, and fabulous marabou wings. Yet, it is those very people who are scared to death to die.

    My takeaway here is that heaven is now and it is my responsibility to create it. There are not guarantees in life. There is no guarantee that I will even have a tomorrow. Certainly, there is no guarantee of a sparkly heaven awaiting. All I know is today. All I really know is right now, the next hour. In fact, my very next thought should be, “How can I make life better, happier, and more joyful for me—and, more importantly, for those around me—right now?”

    If I do that, maybe age doesn’t matter. Maybe it is just a number after all.

    I can make life better for people of any age: my granddaughter Eden Mae, who is 2, and my 93-year-old father John Earl. I need to strive to make life better for everyone in between. I’m lucky enough to do that by bringing music into their lives. Eden Mae sings “Frozen” every day. John Earl sings “When We All Get to Heaven,” “I’ll Fly Away,” “Lookin’ for a City” and other songs about heaven (and sin, of course)!

    What does old mean to you? What does age mean? Pick a number between 2 and 93. Any number. Now, would you really trade your current age for that number, or any other?

    I know my number is just that. I’m going to enjoy today. After all, I get the movie discounts!

    Dr. Tim Seelig is the Artistic Director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.