Slightly Off Center

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Slightly Off Center

How long?
–by Dennis Hinkamp

Water heaters can be faithful employees of your home for 40 years, but I doubt you really appreciate this mundane effort. You replace them, you move on. When people say “happily married for 25 years” I think “but how many total years were you married?” Longevity in itself is not an accomplishment. Longevity recognition may make sense up to about 10 years. After that, you just appear to be unimaginative.

What if you got an award for 30 years of service but you actually served 32 years including overtime or conversely only served 28 years because two of those years you were taking long lunches? I like awards. Give me one for my élan, style or mirth, but don’t give me one for just being in the same place for XX number of years. Or, if you do, make it something I can use such as free parking or gluten-free muffins for life.

I don’t know exactly how many years I have been writing this column; I’ve successfully forgotten what year I started. There is a thin grammatical line between milestone and millstone. Repeatedly doing something in Sisyphean regularity can be a curse as well as a reward.

I don’t want a pin, ribbon or gold watch so why even keep count?

Longevity as a benchmark is overvalued. The only reason it is really worth counting years of age is that you get valuable privileging and prizes coinciding with different totals; driving, drinking, voting, AARP discounts and Social Security payments all come at arbitrary ages rather than at some level of competence. I could have driven safely when I was 12, but letting me cast a knowledgeable vote for president even at age 30 was probably ill advised.

Retirement ages, like the paleo diet, made a lot more sense when we did hard labor every day and didn’t live much longer than was necessary for reproduction and progeny launch. Now, living to 80 or 90 is normal and the progeny keep coming back to the cave/nest like rockets that can’t achieve gravitational escape velocity. “How can I miss you if you won’t go away?”

I’ve had a fair amount of success in Senior, Masters, over-the-hill sports events. These separate everyone into five-year age groups. I have a wall full of medals and a drawer full of t-shirts as proof. On the one hand, it’s fun to compete with fellow geezers, but really it can’t match the gloating high of beating the same 20-somethings who just last week thought they had found a new paradigm to something you had been doing successfully for 30 years.

“Do not go gentle into that good night,” Dylan Thomas famously wrote—probably about the only snippet of poetry most people can recall regarding aging and death. I’ve never quite known what this means but I am personally going to interpret it as a rage against a longevity award. Don’t go gentle into that late afternoon, either.

Dennis Hinkamp has been writing this column for more than 10 years but that’s all the information he’s going to give out. (Only his editor really knows for sure.)

 
 
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