In Brief—A reminiscence on the years too rapidly gone and the reality of looking in the mirror and seeing an old person looking back. Maturity sneaks up on all of us.
Memory and Maturity—
Narcissus, a handsome and overly proud youth, offended the Olympian god Nemesis because of his excessive pride in his looks, so Nemesis lured Narcissus into looking in a mirrorlike pool of water where he fell in love with his own image and ultimately wasted away. That’s where we get the word ”narcissistic.”
The New York Times featured an article on October 7 that presented research on the narcissistic behavior of young people versus that of older people. The consensus is that as we mature into old age we become less focused on ourselves and more attentive to our families and the world around us. It is referred to as The Maturity Principle. Well worth reading.
The article led me to reflect on my own life. As a youth, I felt like something of an ugly duckling, unappealing to the opposite sex and more concerned with fitting in and developing my intellect. I hung around with the smart guys and didn’t date much. A virgin, I married my first real girlfriend to whom I remained faithful. When that marriage went sour, I married a young woman who was attracted to my innocence, and she sparked me into becoming interested in politics and the law. I became a lawyer and suddenly found that I was not the person I once thought I was…but becoming a lawyer cost me that marriage.
By the way, there’s an apocryphal (?!) story about a law student who comes home from the library one night to find a law book in bed where his wife should be.
As a long-haired lawyer who was active in opposing the Vietnam War, who counseled at the Los Angeles Free Clinic and was on the ACLU Speaker’s Panel, I felt I needed balance in my life. Ceramics lessons were the answer. Within a relatively short time, I became proficient and was asked to teach on weekends. Needless to say, I accepted because I had noticed that most students were females between the ages of twenty and forty. A relatively naive divorced lawyer, I suddenly felt like a kid with limitless credit in a candy store. All those females and me!
To say I developed a reputation would be too modest. With two kilns roaring to add to the southern California warmth, I was often seen wearing just my patched jeans and sandals, a muscular and buffed rooster. As one of my female admirers said to another young woman, ”If you’ve got it, flaunt it.” But that was before my current wife came along. Eventually, I married that reluctant young woman, settled down and had children. But I had discovered what I wanted…and what I didn’t want.
Fast forward past the end of the Vietnam War, my transition into criminal law, my uncertainty about practicing law, the personal growth seminars, to my ultimate abandonment of the law and reentry into the corporate world of television entertainment. It was a rocky, up-and-down period that matured me and taught me more than I ever realized. As discussed in the Times article mentioned earlier, the importance of family and the passage of years resulted in more ”We” and less ”Me.” Maturity had come gradually, unnoticed.
Now, here I am an old man; some would say, a ”geezer.” What ever happened to those years when I was a buff hippie, skirt-chasing, activist lawyer? The insecurity? The years flashed by without my having noticed their passing. I look in the mirror today and see an old man sporting wrinkles that are said to represent the wisdom of time. I hope it’s wisdom. I see my father’s weathered face looking back at me. And it all seems like yesterday.
Often they say that old people are no longer reluctant to tell you exactly what they think. Sometimes it’s painful to hear the truth or even blunt meanness, but there’s no pretence. I guess that they feel their time is short so why give anything but deeply-felt opinions. They wear what they feel like wearing—that threadbare old sweater—without caring about the occasion or current fashions. Society has granted old people that indulgence. Indeed, we look with sympathy or even a smidgeon of pity at the old woman with too much lipstick on those thin lips. Is it narcissism or ”I just don’t give a damn?”
Am I rambling? Well, it’s an old guy’s privilege. I know what the mirror is telling me in spite of the thoughts I still have when a shapely female is walking toward an old guy shuffling along behind his walker. It’s those times when my mirror whispers to me, ”Remember, you’re an old guy, not the rooster you once were.”