Age Matters

As people age, I hear many recite the old adage, “Age is just a number.”

Is age just a number? Are you sure?

Our society is FILLED with age restrictions and functions that are centered on age. From the time we start kindergarten at 5, go to certain movies at age 13 (PG 13) or 17 (NC 17), obtain our driver’s license at 16, vote at 18, drink at 21, run for president at 35, retire at 65, and the list could go on and on, I would argue that culture does not treat age as just a number, rather a critically important demarcation of what we should be doing, or have permission to do, in life at any given time.

It is with this understanding that I approach the issue of the youth generated movement, “National School Walkout,” which was inspired by the Parkland, Florida high school shooting, as a protest of contemporary gun laws in the United States. Many high school students took to both the streets and microphones to communicate their support of more gun control laws in the country.

I must confess to being in tension.

On the one hand, it is so awesome to see student engagement and learning from an early age that a democracy has to have active voices and engagement to work optimally –this aspect of the movement is exciting and shows promise. However, on the other hand, since we are an “age-centric” culture, at what age is one mature, educated, and experienced enough to have earned a voice in the public square? There are reasons we have age restrictions and permissions on nearly everything, whether you agree with the precise age or not.

So when I hear gun guy and rocker Ted Nugent say the Florida students calling for gun control have “no soul” and are “mushy brained children,” I am not altogether dismissive of it in the sense, well, they are, by definition, children. And I have never known Mr. Nugent to be a fan of anything remotely politically correct.

Nugent, a longtime member of the NRA’s board of directors, said survivors of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are wrong to blame the NRA and its members for mass shootings.

“These poor children, I’m afraid to say, it hurts me to say, but the evidence is irrefutable: They have no soul,” Nugent said. He added that the gun control measures the students support amount to “spiritual suicide” and “will cause more death and mayhem.”

It is not surprising the Parkland, Florida students demanded an apology from Nugent.

Good luck with that kiddos. You have a better chance of catching cat scratch fever (google it).

Now, please make no mistake: This blog is NOT about gun control or protest or school shootings or even the crazy motor city madman Ted Nugent. I have no opinions on any of these things at present. What I do find intriguing and opinion worthy is the issue of age appropriateness and its role in society.

I have taken notice that on social media that many are very critical of those, like crazy Ted, who are, in turn, critical of these kids. This criticism is often accompanied by a very positive evaluation of these teens speaking out for an important cause.

One of my social media friends and former student, Adam, now having earned his Phd from Michigan State and in whom I have a great deal of respect, wrote: “If you are one of these adults mocking children who are simply speaking their truth and experience you should be ashamed of yourselves. You may not agree with their opinions but you have not walked in their shoes and they deserve to have their voices heard. They don’t deserve petty attacks from adults. These are victims of a horrific crime not your enemies.”

I totally get that…and I do not believe any public discourse should include as part of its strategy, mocking. Yet the key word in this post is “children.” So I agree with Adam’s general sentiment, yet when children take it upon themselves to enter the very adult arena of the NRA, you are now playing in the adult big leagues –and it likely will not be pretty.

As I age, and I just turned 55 last month, I am confounded by the social admonition to “act your age.” What does that mean exactly? If one wants to posit that older folk such as myself should not engage in certain behaviors or activities because it would be inappropriate for a 55 year-old, should not the reverse be true as well? I mean, there is a reason we want our president to be at least 35 years old.

Neuroscientists now tell us our brains prefrontal cortex is not fully functioning until around the age of 25, and I prefer we enact social policy that reflects science. So is it too much to ask that our doctors, lawyers, educators, law enforcement and others, have, at the very least, a fully developed brain?

So, ironically and perhaps paradoxically, I want to develop the voice and passion of our young people while teaching the power of civic engagement, YET, I would prefer our children not have a say in creating social policy.

There will be a day when the children graduate from the kids table and earn a spot at the adult one.

Until then, let’s teach our children well.

Age is not just a number. Age matters.

 

 

RIP Michelle. On And On The Village Goes.

“On and on
I just keep on trying
And I smile when I feel like dying
On and on
On and on”

Life is in constant forward motion that has no room, nor patience, for stragglers. We keep moving. And sometimes I just want to stop and turn back. Singer John Mayer reflected this sentiment when he wrote, “Stop this train. I want to get off and go home again. I can’t take the speed it’s moving in.”

I wish.

I just spent nearly my entire Sunday at a memorial service in honor of my daughter Rosie’s best friend growing up, Michelle, or, as she refers to her, Michu.

She passed away of breast cancer on March 29 at the age of 27.

Wow. Life is just not supposed to happen that way. I guess.

Yet “on and on” we go.

So when I looked across our table at another friend of Rosie’s growing up, Kelsey, I was reminded of life’s seemingly careless twists and ferocious unpredictability.

Kelsey was a beautiful and gregarious child. When she was in the seventh grade, she caught a virus that was diagnosed to be healed in just a few short weeks. In the meantime, this nasty virus caused the bottom half of her body to go paralyzed and she became wheelchair bound.

The virus never healed and now, 15 years later, this beautiful young woman experiences life from a chair.

“On and on. Toss up my heart to see where it lands.”

I watched Michelle’s dad, Dan, shriek guttural screams and primal cries as the slow drip of the reality of death became ever more present with each passing story, photograph and memory. I connected with his fatherly energy, feeling and empathizing with this deepest of internal agony. I. Cannot. Possibly. Imagine.

I think a brutal ripping out of our guts would not be nearly as painful as burying a child.

“And I smile when I feel like dying.”

My daughter posted on Facebook, “[The Rabbi said], ’Don’t try and search for meaning in any of this, there isn’t any.’ I think those were some of the most comforting words I’ve heard the last few days. This is all so unfair and unjust, and I know it’s only going to get harder, but I will continue to celebrate you every day.”

Rosie, who has now lost a grandma and best friend within a six month period, is forced to reckon and deal with seemingly endless pain. Forced to learn at age 28 how do deal with the sting of loss, whether she wants to or not. Life can be that way. Learn or go home.

“On and on
She just keeps on trying
And she smiles when she feels like crying”

I watched all the moms and dads, our faces having aged and wrinkled since when we were youthful, hopeful and eager parents of elementary schoolers; hopeful for the exciting promise of what the future may hold for our precious little ones, now our faces bearing the toll of the years and the knowledge of what that future really held.

Our collective countenance suggested a sharing in the pain of Dan and his wife Ellen. In a sense we all lost a child that day. Our village was in mourning. Our faces etched with another wrinkle of experience, wrinkles lined with unwanted loss and grief.

“So he takes a ladder, steals the stars from the sky, puts on Sinatra and starts to cry”

I heard the outspoken basketball analyst Charles Barkley once say that when it comes to doing battle with Father Time, we humans will always be on the losing end as that is a battle that can never be won.

Yet “on and on” it is, in an inevitable forced march with no turning back. No stopping allowed. Not for a second. Do not pass go. This train stops for no one or no thing.

So what do we have? I do know we have each other. We have this moment and we have a life full of memories.

I do know that I will continue to live the hell out of life.

Yes. That I do know. I may not beat Father Time though he is gonna be so sick of me by the time it is all said and done he may wish he had lost.

So my precious village, I love you…this I know. Goodbye Michelle.

“And I smile when I feel like dying.”