Now it’s my time to talk about this song, the iconic, playful, fun-ish, but ultimately incredibly stupid song sung by the Beatles way back in 1967- “When I’m 64!”. I certainly have earned the right to do so, turning 64 as I have. What I find most enticing about the song is the person who wrote it to begin with, Paul McCartney himself, who will be 81 later this month. I would love to have had the opportunity to see what he would say about this little bit of his illustrious life, right here and now. They say that McCartney actually wrote it when he was only 15, the Beatles sang it when he was 24- when you are 15 or 24, the age “64” seems to be somewhere between 200 and 2000 years old. Weren’t we just the same?
I remember when I was about 11 or so, a few boys in my class who had a band got up and sang us this song and even then I remember thinking: why talk about something which is light years into the future?
For those of you who may not recall the rhyming lyrics of this light, cabaret-like “having fun” song, it really is cute and has all these nice little images: “getting older and losing my hair… you can knit a sweater by the fireside… grandchildren on your knee… yours sincerely, wasting away…will you still need me, will you still feed me…” You get the picture, right? Let’s hand it to him, he was only 15, needed a good rhyme, 64 sounded like a good enough rhyme, and there you go…
But is that really so? In 2021, McCartney is said to have declared in an interview that he wouldn’t write a memoir because, “I’m not old and I’m not retiring.” He has since changed his mind about the memoir. Alas, McCartney in addition to being very talented and very wealthy, is also impressively active and is said to devote a huge amount of time and energy into keeping that “youthful appearance”: eye yoga, meditation, strict diet and rigorous exercise. I wonder what McCartney REALLY thinks about his aging process and what that means for him?
I certainly don’t want to wax all romantic about aging and pretend that it is all a wonderful walk in the park: it is far from that. I have seen so many times, as you have, the many losses and afflictions, the frequent decline in mind and body, the suffering of the soul, the living on in life while dear partners and loved ones have left forever. To deny that would be both foolish and immoral.
Yet, with my hand on my heart, I can definitely speak for myself at this point in time and I bet many of you out there could say the same of themselves: life is much better just where I am. Of course, I would love right now some of those things that only youth can give you, but... I remember that much younger version of myself at 15 and 24, and I honestly don’t recall any intense feelings of happiness, satisfaction or meaning in life. I remember what was in the mind, body and soul of THAT version of myself and what I feel is there today... I can only look back with a combination of pity and compassion for that young, soul-seeking, impatient adolescent. I can do that BECAUSE I am 64 and today I know how to reflect on my life, something I was no doubt pretty pathetic at in those days.
Are we really wiser as we grow old?
You and I both know a fair number of older people who we would not categorize in any way as “wise”, probably closer to the “pretty dumb” category. It is NOT direct scientific causation that allows a person to automatically become wise just by moving ahead with the calendar. Prof. Dilip Jeste, a renowned geriatric neuropsychiatrist specializing in wisdom and other positive attributes of the aging brain, has explained that there 7 characteristics of wisdom, with self-reflection being a major one. An older person carries with him a much greater “bag of experience” in which to understand life. But has he/she actually reflected on this experience? This is quite another process. Reflection requires honesty to engage, humility to admit mistakes, courage to move out and explore on what is understood, among others. Self reflection, age, humility together can create a wonderful harvest of wisdom.
To the 15 year old McCartney of yesteryear or the 81 year-old version of today, and to all those out there who will read these words and reflect on them, I say let’s change the words: Instead of “Will you still feed me and need me”, I submit it should be “NOW you will see me, NOW you will hear me…when I’m 64!”
Our journey into our aging years can and should be a journey into our own authenticity, into a more genuine “me”. An authenticity that has developed from a life story of many chapters and a desire to engage and reflect on the meaning these chapters have given to our lives.
So then...I am ever so curious and awaiting this next chapter of mine, I wonder what it will be be all about? And you? What about you?