For those of you who've never had the pleasure of living in seasonless paradise (or hell, depending on your outlook), time passes crazy fast with no external markers of the obvious variety.
And, for those of you who are still stuck in your 20s, time accelerates (or seems to) with each passing decade, something you can't begin to understand until you've got more years of driving under your belt, or voting, or (legally) drinking, than not.
Without getting all Cat's-in-the-Cradle on you, it's kind of important to have not only a plan and a whole lot of carpe diem fueling it, but it's especially so when you're staring down the back half of your life from the sun-baked flats of Los Angeles. Despite my type-A tendencies, I managed to fritter away big, honking swaths of my life on crap activities for the first 10 or so years after graduating from college. That wouldn't be so bad, we've all of us got to fritter a little bit, but I've got introvert genes and fear-of-God-and-the-Non-Standard-Job programming, so I was perhaps a little overly slow in embracing change.
One of the things that becomes unavoidable as you age is the introduction of common tragedy to one's life: illness, sadness, death. Both my parents and all of my grandparents died in rapid succession over the course of 10 years, from my early 30s to my early 40s. Friends have begun succumbing to illnesses, cancer, hypertension and the like; my own bitch-slap of a Crohn's onset shook me up but good seven-odd years ago.
Still, it's easy to forget. It's another sunny day here in seasonless paradise, and the hours fly by, filled as they are with obligations, chores, and the occasional fire that needs putting out. First the hours, then the days, then 40 years later all of a sudden you're wrapped in a Snuggie watching the weather channel with the volume turned up way too loud, marking time by meals and medication. I forget, and I spent five months climbing the walls with frustration during my Crohn's recovery: I was so happy the first day I could drive myself to the post office and back I actually cried (right before falling asleep for three hours from exhaustion).
I suppose there are as many ways to stay aware of time passing as there are people to dream them up, but a new one I've started is keeping the obituaries nearby. Not all of them, and not as they come in. Just the "Farewell" page from the end-of-year issue of THE WEEK, with everyone on it but poor Eartha Kitt, who missed the cutoff date for publication. It's good for me to look up from my computer and see Paul Newman and Studs Terkel and Alexandr Solzhenitsyn looking back at me, asking me what the hell I've done with my day. It's even good to see some of the sadder entries, David Foster Wallace and Tim Russert, who died too soon (and, in Wallace's case, too, too horribly). Because you never know, and because you can never be too grateful for the good minutes you're given.
I realize that even teeing up the discussion this way puts me in old-man-hitchin'-up-my-pants territory. But so be it.
I am my own old man, and that old man's job is to make sure I'm doing mine...