(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel October 20, 2008)
From my father's perspective, at age 96, I'm just a kid. It doesn't matter that my head hosts more than a few gray hairs or that my eyes are surrounded by bags on the bottom, folds on the top and a whole nest of crow's feet on both sides. Looking at me from his stage of life, I'm still wet behind the ears. A kid and a young one at that.
That's not how my son perceives it. From the sage perspective of one who has seen 16 summers come and go, I'm old, ancient, practically prehistoric. I was, after all, raised in a time when -- GASP! -- iPods did not exist, information was found in books instead of online and you had to actually get up off the couch and walk to the TV if you wanted to change channels.
The world in which I grew up is almost as difficult for my youngest son to comprehend as it was for me, when I was his age, to imagine the unhomogenized, gas-lit world of my father's era.
When my father was growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., a man wouldn't think of leaving the house without a hat. Milk with the cream on top was delivered to your door in glass bottles and if you wanted to tell someone something, you wrote them a letter and mailed it with a stamp that cost 2 cents.
Times have certainly changed. Stamps now cost 42 cents and, for all practical purposes, e-mail has replaced handwritten letters. Milk made from soybeans is nearly as commonplace as milk from a cow. And the idea of dressing up before leaving the house is as outdated as 78-rpm phonograph records. ("What are they?" my son might ask.)
I've pondered these generational "gasps" as I await the approach of my 57th birthday. As it turns out, I'm smack-dab-in-the-middle of my youngest child's age and that of my father. One is 40 years my elder, the other 40 years younger. The middle ground I sow produces its own crop of distinctive perceptions.
For starters, I don't feel old. Then again, I'm no spring chicken. My body is saggier, draggier and baggier than it was in my 20s, 30s or even my 40s. My once limber legs now orchestrate a cacophony of clicks, creaks and cracks whenever I squat down and attempt to stand back up. In order to see anything clearly, I'm obliged to wear bifocal lenses, and my deteriorating bones prevent me from daring to do certain activities I would have jumped at in my youth.
But it's not all bad news. Ever since my memory began waning, it's become easier to pick out books to read and movies to watch. Even if I've seen them before, I can enjoy them again because, for the most part, I can hardly remember anything that happened. And as for romance, well, let's just say the old adage "practice makes perfect" is absolutely true. When I think about all the things that could go wrong in life, I'm amazed how many of us live as long as we do. As I navigate through the early years of my second half-century, the accumulating miles do not upset me. Instead, I'm thrilled to still be rambling along the well-trod road. The way I see it, life is as full of pleasure and potential as we want to make it. The trick is to seek out those treasures as we make the journey -- to focus on the scenery instead of the potholes -- to have fun along the way and enjoy the ride.
Sweet Sixteen days may be a thing of the past, but the precipice upon which my 96-year-old father stands is still distant. Who knows what the future will bring? The only thing certain is that the present is here. And, since my birthday is also almost here, I'm ready to do some serious unwrapping. Give me the present and I'll open it with care. No matter how old or young we might be, today, this one moment in time -- the present -- is one gift everyone shares.