A View from the Hill: Answering the wake-up call

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Here’s an image that popped into my almost 70-year-old mind for no particular reason. 

First, I was a garbage truck with trash tumbling out the back as it rolled down the street. And the stream of garbage left was the detritus of 70 years of living. 

“But my life hasn’t been garbage,” I argued with my mind. “I don’t want to be a garbage truck.”

So my mind turned me into a ship. Launched in March of 1951, this ship has sailed around and around the globe ever since, at times with a destination in mind and too many times not so much.

The turbulence left behind a ship is called a wake. Wakes of all kinds of boats and ships have fascinated me since I was a child. There is something about the symmetry of the V-shaped waves carved by a speeding outboard, or the frothing, bubbling, heaving wake emanating from the stern of a ship underway. They mesmerize me.

In the case of the ship created by my mind, I am watching from the back of the ship, and the wake stream stretches to the horizon, and the stream is filled with random stuff from my life, objects and people and places and even concepts I have known.

Partial inventory: A blue children’s bike, the tiny Sony television we had for years, the tiny white Subaru station wagon that was my first car, burned-out toaster ovens (I know, wouldn’t float, right? Magical realism is the mind’s prerogative).

More: Wooden puzzle men in nursery school, songs, a marriage or two, books, stereos, dishwashers (lots of appliances), furniture, neighborhoods, hobbies, fights, values, teachers, babysitters, vacations, schools, misunderstandings, hospital stays, vinyl records.

You get the idea. It’s not hard to watch this stuff float away. Actually, it’s kind of fascinating, and a fine mind trick.

Of course, there are clumsy, downright mean, bad behaviors and stupid decisions I’d rather forget, and I certainly will at some point soon. But for now, I’m just enjoying the show.

They say that 70 can be a very difficult birthday, especially for men. But I don’t see how it could be any more difficult than anything else that has happened in the last two years, so I’m not intimidated. 

In fact, I look forward to it. Apparently, I’m not supposed to.

First, there’s the grouchiness thing.

According to NPR’s “The Protojournalist,” “The approximate moment when grumpiness kicks in for men … is around 70.” That’s when the “Do Not Even Think About Turning Around Here” signs start turning up at the end of driveways. Or, as NPR said, that’s when “you’d better get off his lawn.”

To hell with them. Not gonna happen to me, dammit.

And then there is the body image thing. My brother, who is 72, warns me he found 70 to be very challenging. 

“With age,” he said, “our bodies head south and get gross while our eyes get worse so when we look at ourselves in the mirror we can convince ourselves, at 60, that we still can look cool if we work on it. By 70, even our failing vision can’t maintain that lie.”

The poet Nanao Sakaki, who is 85, has some advice for my brother.

“In the morning
“After taking a cold shower
“— what a mistake —
“I look at the mirror.”

After describing the wreck that he encounters, he hears a voice:

“To stay young,
“To save the world,
“Break the mirror.”

So add a shattered mirror to that stream of my life’s flotsam and jetsam.

And as The Beach Boys said, “Sail on, sail on sailor.”

Andrew Marsters is an award-winning journalist and former journalism instructor at the University of New Hampshire. He lives on Munjoy Hill.