Whether you are 20, 30, 40 or 80, there is a time when you look back and say, “Where did it all go?” Obviously, it is different when you are twenty, and looking forward to the rest of your life, than when you are eighty looking at life in a rear view mirror. But people do, on occasion, try to figure out where their life has gone and what they want to do with the time they have left – no matter what age.
Some people (like professional Presidential political people –what a mouthful), measure their lives in increments of four years. And when they reflect they think about what they did in between campaigns. Other, like photojournalists may look at their lives in terms of the important stories they covered. Artists, like painters or sculptures, probably measure their lives by the art work they produce. I have no idea what lawyers or bankers do.
One of the ways we measure our lives is by our families. Usually the measure is the age of child or a parent. You will often hear a parent say, “My God, how did the kids get so old?” Or, “Can you believe I’m the same age as my mother when she learned to drive.” Or “I just had to take my mother’s driver’s license and keys away.” And you might hear a kid say, “When you were alive, what did you do for a social life?” If you are twenty, you can’t wait until you are 21. It opens so many doors, including to the local tavern. But you still look back at the way you spent your childhood, and you think about the things that were most important or had an impact that might be ever lasting – a first kiss, a last dance, a celebration of some academic achievement. Yet another kind of measurement.
We also measure our lives by our successes or failures. Sometimes that involves personal achievements and sometimes it is the achievement of a loved one. Like when our children have children. Who, as a parent, hasn’t said, “You should only get back double from your kids what you gave to me.” (You don’t have to have said it with a Yiddish inflection, but guilt usually works better with an immigrants accent.—Yiddish Italian, Chinese, it doesn’t matter.) Then when the kids have kids and you see their children acting out, something inside you makes you want to smile and say, “Thank you God.” But of course you don’t because then they would blame your curse for all the child’s bad behavior.
On occasion, when I’m feeling mortal (which happens infrequently), I think that everyone would be better off doing exactly what they want to do —no matter how unrealistic. For example, I never intended to work in politics or the government. My love was always the theater. But at someplace along my road of life, I took a left instead of a right and became a “political operative” instead of Cecil B.DeMille.
I have no regrets about the professional time I spent in academia, public relations or the Washington bureaucracy. I traveled all over the world, met unbelievable people, and made fairly sound policy. Actually, I have no regrets about anything but waiting a little too long to do the thing I most wanted to do – something on the production side of the theater. But, I believe, that as long as you are still breathing, it’s never too late to follow your dream. And whether you become an expert, rich or famous, as long as you are spending each day in a way that makes you happy, you cannot ask for more.
Anyway, when we talk about our memories and start with something close to “Do you remember…” -- the first day of school, the first day of camp, the first job, the first disappointment, graduating from college, when you fought with a dear friend, the passing of a parent, or the first day of your child’s chosen career, those are also a ways to measure how much of your life has passed.
As my mother would say, “Measure, Schmeasure.” What it really comes down to is how you want to be treated, remembered, and yes, measured by people on whose life you might have had some impact. We’re just sayin’… Iris