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Opinion

Commentary: Reading the obituary page puts everything into perspective

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“For 50 years, I read the newspaper in this order: sports; regional and local news; editorial and opinion; world news; and entertainment. It’s now: sports; obituaries; regional and local news; world news; and entertainment,” says Jim Carnett.
(File Photo)

Friends tell me that 75 is the new 50, but I’m not buying it.

I may be a crank, but if you believe you’re as lithe and lucid at 75 as you were at 50, well, I’ve got some prunes to sell from Gypsy Boots’ private stash that’ll set you free.

I’ve officially been a “codger” longer than I was young. I’ve already been 50 and will turn 75 later this month. I consider myself to be qualified to speak authoritatively for both ages. Let me say this: I’ll take 50 over 75 … any day!

The two ages are not remotely congruent. They’re as unalike as Fred Astaire and Larry the Cucumber.

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What my nutty friends are attempting to peddle is this: age is — bottom line — pure bunkum (a word from my youth meaning “untrue” or “stupid”). It’s my guess that age is rather an effective reminder that we’re mortal. We each have an expiration date.

Seventy-five-year-old bladders, kidneys and livers don’t revive. Beneath that leathery hide of yours, they look, act and operate like 75-year-old bladders, kidneys and livers.

Some say that by adopting a proper attitude — or initiating the “Think System” — we can convince our physical selves that a salubrious future lies ahead. Professor Harold Hill was unable to make that concept work in River City.

My grandfather was to me, at 75, a burnt-out cinder cone on the Pacific Rim. My father, at 75, was a Wagnerian opera minus the horns. I, at the moment, am a spent Ulysses S. Grant stogie, exhumed at Cold Harbor a century ago.

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Seventy-five is tough, despite what a delusional fitness aficionado might contend. What’s so bad with looking my age? Nothing. Besides, too many acid peels could melt a Mt. Rushmore effigy.

As my 75th approaches I can’t help but reflect on something my granddaughter, Emma Grace, asked me a dozen years ago on my 63rd birthday. She was 7 . She’s now a 19-year-old Harvard pre-med major.

“How old are you, opa?” she asked me that day.

“Sixty-three,” I replied.

“Wow, and you’re not dead, yet?”

From the mouths of babes. I can only hope her bedside manner improves in the future.

Back to aging. I’m a creature of habit. I read a newspaper delivered to my door every morning, rain or shine, soggy or dry. (BTW, I’ve learned not to put a wet newspaper in the oven.)

I’ve been an avid newspaper reader since the age of 10.

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For 50 years, I read the newspaper in this order: sports; regional and local news; editorial and opinion; world news; and entertainment. It’s now: sports; obituaries; regional and local news; world news; and entertainment.

One of the first questions I ask myself as I brood over my morning coffee is: “Who died last night?”

At 75 — the “winter” of life, as Sinatra put it — you want to know stuff like that. You can’t help yourself.

A decade ago, my 65th birthday was acknowledged with a surprise party orchestrated by my love and my wife (the same person), Hedy. At my request this year, however, there’ll be no such event.

I’ve issued an edict that I shall not participate in a 75th. This birthday will be allowed to slip by in the fog like a Puget Sound ferry.

Though Hedy will dispute this, I’m a card-carrying introvert. Truly.

I’m not comfortable with public displays of … anything. Especially me. I don’t feel comfortable giving speeches, accepting awards or answering probing questions from television reporters.

You might ask, quite appropriately, how was I able to do such — and more — for 37 years as Orange Coast College’s P.R. guy?

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Lots of prayer.

Yep, God got me through anxiety attacks, trembling hands and diverse nervous ailments. I loved my career, but it scared me to death. Without God, I couldn’t have made it.

So, here’s my take-away.

Read an obituary a day. It puts things in perspective.

Jim Carnett lives in Costa Mesa.


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