Let’s face it. At this point in our After 50 lives most of us have a few, very well established idiosyncrasies. They probably won’t be going away any time soon.
I turn off lights in unoccupied rooms at our house. This doesn’t necessarily please my wife, who always contends with a straight face that she had just stepped into another room and was about to return. Our house cleaner – who is fabulous and deserves an award for vacuuming around the piles of organized work on my home office floor without disturbing them – leaves lights on all over the place. I regularly calm myself before I wander around the house to find and turn them off after he has left. For me it isn’t about the cost and it isn’t even about being environmentally conscious. This one, heaven help me, comes straight from my father. But where did he get it?
Having my own place is really important to me. Whether it’s a seat on an airplane, a place at the table, or a spot in the long ticket holders’ line at a Broadway theater; I’m more relaxed after my spot is identified whether I am in it or not. Which of my ancestors passed down such a strong need for place? Or did I create this one all on my own?
I like to be early – not punctual, early – for flights, movies, appointments, performances, and presentations. As a result, my usually tolerant wife has had many occasions to sit in an otherwise unoccupied movie theater exclaiming “Well, I’m certainly glad you got us here while there were still seats available.” Where did this come from?
Being around the toxic chi of live or televised mean spiritedness gives me the pip. Of course, this severely limits how much television I can watch or how many tweets I can deal with in our current political environment. It also explains one of the major rules I had when I was raising kids: “Disagree all you want but put-down, mean spirited, personal attack humor has no place in this house.” How many generations back did this aversion begin and how?
I have a strong preference for short power naps from which I awaken immediately revitalized. I was once driving with my friend Peter as my passenger. He pointed out that I seemed to be getting sleepy. I immediately pulled over to the curb, put the car in park, slept soundly for 4.5 minutes, awoke, and resumed driving fully restored. He said he wouldn’t have believed it if he hadn’t seen it with his own eyes.
No list of my idiosyncratic preferences would be complete without citing my strong bias for action. Example: my wife will begin a conversation about where we would like to go to dinner next week and before she knows it I’ve already called or gone online and made a reservation. This isn’t what she wanted at all, of course. She just wanted to have a conversation. Restaurant reservations are just one example.
I’m at least a 6th generation American. Some of my ancestors came from Sweden and were men and women armed with shovels and wheelbarrows. They magically changed marshy land near La Conner, Washington into large tulip and daffodil fields. Others were from England and sailed in their ships to these shores. One ship captain reportedly had both a family in England a family here. They weren’t from one class or educational model. I doubt they would have all agreed on politics, religion, money, education, or civil rights. What did I inherit from them?
What brings this all up? It’s striking how deeply we are agonizing over national identity, race, and morality. It’s also striking to me that so many of us have forgotten our forbearers; thinking and speaking instead as if we have always been here.
Unlike many people I hear quoted in print, online, and in broadcast, I think being an American is a kind of membership that I must honor by voting and paying my taxes and believing in the value of other Americans whether they agree with me or not.
At one level I am a self-creation; the product of the exigencies born from the collision between nature and nurture in our time in history. At another level I am convinced I am the living, breathing echoes of the idiosyncrasies of my ancestors, passed to me without a user’s manual or explanation of context. At a third level I am a man over 50, working act on a keen sense of the responsibility I have to my peers and children/grandchildren through my exercise of words and behaviors.
I am more than the sum of my parts, idiosyncrasies and all. Here in our discontinuous New Normal I find it important to remember who went before me as well as who I have become.
When you think of your own parts, self-created, inherited, chosen, and imposed by our times. How do you make sense of yourself after 50?