Robert Whale can be reached at

When old age asks the new year for a dance | Whale’s Tales

One of the important lessons the dawning of each new year has taught me is the futility of making New Year’s resolutions.

My track record of keeping them is poor at best. I can no better hold to the resolutions than I could a resolution to stem the natural processes of aging in order to stay young and vital.

Wish that were possible.

But facts are facts. And the fact is that in March 2023, I turn 61.

How can that be? I ask myself the question over and over. I’m certain others feel the same disbelief at reaching their own, once-unimaginable milestones: 40, 50, 60. Jeez, when we were kids, even 30 seemed ancient.

But there’s that stubborn calendar, and, however keen I may be to argue the point, it doesn’t lie — 1962 really was that long ago. The mirror doesn’t lie either: the wrinkles, the gray hairs. It’s there.

I know time does not pass for a little kid of 5 or 10 as it does for me. Of course, we both live in the closing days of 2022. But for a kid of 5 years old, one year represents a fifth of his life, whereas for someone like me, a year is one/61 of his life.

Sometimes I amuse myself by imagining what a year would have appeared to Methusaleh, a biblical patriarch who is said to have lived 969 years. A flash, a bright blur?

I think more and more of life as a train moving rapidly past the varying landscapes and fields of our greener years. Along the journey, people who were sitting beside me only a moment before get off.

Has my mother actually been gone 16, coming on 17 years? My father 11 years? My brother 47 years? Without any regard, the train moves, and ones we loved are quickly lost in the distance.

Can’t be. But, it is.

I am embarrassed to admit how often these days I set out to do something and by the time I get, oh, wherever the hell I was going, I have already forgotten what that something was. For now, a moment or two of concentration typically solves the problem.

“The years just flow by like a broken down dam,” as the late, great John Prine sang in his song “Angel from Montgomery.”

I am aware that somewhere along the line, the world changed around me. I believe the radio started playing different tunes in my college years, when I was busy with studies.

In whatever way it happened, it happened. I lost a step and I’ve never gotten it back. My tastes in many ways have remained what they were when was I was studying classical languages and loved poetry that followed a metrical scheme. Poetry now is more free form. I am a dinosaur.

Very well then, I am a dinosaur. I still love the Classics, Badfinger, the Beatles. But one of the compensations for “getting up there” is we know more. The kids’ taste in music may not be for me, but somewhere along the line, I accepted that while this music may not be my type, that’s OK. That’s just one rose in my father’s garden I cannot smell. But others can, and they love it.

I find myself returning more and more these days to what George Santayana, the Spanish-American philosopher, had to say about approaching old age, in his “Sonnet Upon Reaching the Age of 50.”

“Old Age, on tiptoe, lays her jeweled hand

Lightly in mine. Come, tread a stately measure,

Most gracious partner, nobly poised and bland;

Ours be no boisterous pleasure,

But smiling conversation, with quick glance,

And memories dancing lightlier than we dance—

Friends, who a thousand joys

Divide and double …”

My wish for all of us is that in 2023, we learn to get along gracefully, and to do what another poet described: learn to move in measure like a dancer.

Happy new year.

Robert Whale can be reached at

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