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A Friend’s Birthday

I spoke yesterday with Clair, a longtime friend. He was celebrating his 88th birthday and I called to congratulate him. We can always pick up where we left off despite long periods without contact.

I asked him how he liked being in his late 80s and he said, “Speaking as someone who’s always needed to have a project, I’ve recently decided to end all achievement for achievement’s sake and relax. I find it’s nice for a change to stop swimming so hard in life’s ocean and to sit on the shore and just observe it.”

I asked him what he was doing for fun. He said, “I’m dancing free-form to modern music three or four times each week. I’ve been doing this for years, and over that time, I’ve learned to dance with abandon—without feeling self-conscious. I let the music take my body where it wants to. I simply react to it.”

I said, “That sounds like a freeing experience.” He said, “Yes, it truly is. However, someone in the dance studio videotaped me a few weeks ago and posted it on YouTube. When I watched it, I was shocked. I saw this white-haired guy with an old body doing this strange dance. I was struck by the difference between how I feel when I’m dancing and when I observe myself doing it. The discrepancy is shocking.”

Clair laughed with good humor as he shared his experience and I laughed with him. He was not at all embarrassed about it; he simply found it fascinating and thought provoking. I knew exactly how he felt because I had a similar story to tell. 

“Clair, two years ago, my daughter, a fine singer, asked me to play drums with her band at a jazz concert. As I played with her, I felt the same musical experience I did when I was a young man playing drums full-time. I felt like a hip young musician playing swinging music. Then, my daughter sent me a DVD of the concert and I watched it. I liked the way the music sounded, but I was shocked to see a white-haired, portly H & R Block salesman sitting in my place behind the drums. Like you, I was surprised at the discrepancy between the person I imagined playing drums and the reality.”

Clair said, “Exactly! That is it exactly!” We laughed and commiserated, and then we went on to other topics and enjoyed a nice chat. After I hung up the phone, I felt the warm and pleasant sense of having reconnected in a satisfying way with my good friend.

When I met Clair, he was 58 and I was 42. Like a mature jazz musician, Claire has moved with life’s flow and has gracefully improvised in reaction to its ever-changing demands. Conversation with him is always interesting because he’s connected to the present in a creative way. It has been a joy to share his journey and an inspiration to see how he has embraced growing older. 

As my exchange with Clair demonstrates, one of the great gifts that a long-term friendship offers us is the fun of sharing the aging experience. When Joe Williams, the great jazz and blues singer, turned 80, I asked how he was handling aging. Laughing, he said, “As the saying goes, it’s not for sissies, but I must say, it sure beats the alternative.”

Do you have a question or comment for me? Feel free to post it by clicking on the comments link below.   


Comment from Clair Killen
Time: July 28, 2008, 6:25 pm

Ron, friend over many years, a renaissance man in the present. Your comments delicious and appreciated. Each day, these days is new. One day, How much is enough? Another day, wow! I never saw that before. Then, Shit! I don’t have to do that anymore. Let us keep the connection. Love Clair

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