Thanks for the memories. For the shadows, too, as they lengthen across yet another year, aging but not withering recollections of years gone by. The memories become more precious as the shadows deepen. Those of us of a certain age remember parents and grandparents no longer with us, who gave us their unconditional love with the discipline to live good lives. We hope we're giving back in equal measure.
Every generation thinks the one before it lived life at a slower tempo. One of my favorite bracelets is made of old typewriter keys, and no one under 10 has any idea where such things came from. When we speak of "the War," we have to be careful to say which war we're referring to; only a tiny handful of veterans of "the Great War" (of 1914-1918) are left, and the veterans of World War II, the youngest of whom are in their ninth decade, will be gone soon, too.
It's a cliche that you only connect directly to the contemporary art, literature and styles of your own generation, and when you're on stage it feels as though it will last forever. But it doesn't. In his 60s, my father began to describe himself as a "has been." His heady days of promoting world-championship prizefights, mingling with Joe Louis, Billy Conn and Max and Buddy Baer, were past. He invested the money he earned to make his family comfortable as they aged, but it was clear that he missed what he called "the action."
Today, "the action" is likely to be on the Internet, bringing people closer together while pushing them farther apart. Is there anything colder than Internet matchmaking, where the lonely risk ego in search of affection? A picture may be worth a thousand words, but one friend who trolls for dates online says he learned to add 20 to 30 pounds to the figure in what is nearly always an old snapshot.
We're all living longer, and it's easy to believe that "70 is the new 50." Advances in health care contribute to a lively seniority. But after a certain age, it's clear that George Bernard Shaw got it right when he said that "youth is wasted on the young." The end of the year forces each of us to look back on the years of rights and wrongs, pleasures and mistakes. We're pleased to remember some decisions, but the list of things we might have done differently is a long one.
Every language is rich with excuses for folly: "Such is life," "C'est la vie," "Asi est la vida." Mark Twain contributed one with uncharacteristic sentimentality: "Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been." Casey Stengel, "the ol' perfessor" remembered as philosopher as well as baseball genius, said it as well as anyone: "The trick is growing up without growing old."
Only a decade ago, my eldest grandson sat on my lap at our New Year's Eve bash as "Baby New Year." The oldest man at the table on that occasion is gone now. This year, there are new babies and "new olds." The champagne will sparkle, the hats and balloons will provoke the usual smiles, we'll bask in the warmth of friendship and family, and the evening will remind us of the memories for which we'll give thanks.
I'm thankful to live in the most generous country in the world, for the men and women who put their lives on the line to change the equation in the Middle East to make the world safer for everybody. I'm thankful for the way Americans open their hearts and pocketbooks when hurricanes and floods strike here and tsunamis and earthquakes strike abroad. I'm thankful for the possibilities spread out for the succeeding generation, whose ambition and education will take them to places we have not dreamed of.
I'm thankful for my grandsons' charter school, where the school play the other night was an original rock and roll musical production of "The Trial of the Big Bad Wolf," where children from 6 to 12 sang and danced with talent and abilities they didn't know they had. I'm thankful that the melting pot that makes ours the greatest nation on earth is still bubbling, borne out by the names of the cast: Nnamdi, Miles, Akili, Sharya, Noah, Kamaria, Olin, Xiomara, Maggie, Hulai, Clara, Talis, Kate, Kimberly and Khamila. (What a country!)
I'm thankful for my cup of fresh-brewed coffee in the morning, for the quiet streets before the sun rises, for flashes of inspiration and for what the poet calls "the hidden soul of harmony." This, too, will be a year to remember. Bring on the new one.