Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Roll over, Sarah and Abraham...
Last week, an Indian friend of mine (who is married to a Dutch man and has been living in Amsterdam for a few decades) celebrated her 50th birthday...her Sarah birthday.
She told me that there is a saying here that when one turns 50, they have "seen Sarah," or Abraham, if it's a man's birthday. Cards for 50th birthdays often have caricatures of these lovable elderly folk from the Old Testament.
As the story from long ago goes, after decades of pleading with the heavens to become pregnant and start a family, Abraham and Sarah, at age 100 and 90 respectively, miraculously conceive and begin their lives as parents. (For the sake of keeping on track with the point of this tradition, I'll leave out the part where Abraham, at the feisty age of 86, decided to give it a go with his slave-girl Hagar, which ended up giving lucky runner-up Sarah an illegitimate son. Talk about tabloid fodder. Or tablet fodder, as the case would've been.)
Anyway, morally questionable decisions about extra-marital activities aside, Sara and Abraham are celebrated as symbols of wisdom. The implication being that, if you have been around long enough to have seen Sarah or Abraham, then you should be celebrated as an asset to society because you are seasoned and wise.
What a paradigm. What a concept. As opposed to being greeted by black ribbons, gravestones and gift certificates to Jenny Craig, those walking into Decade #6 in this neck of the woods are thanked for having made it thus far so that society can benefit from their knowledge.
(Okay...all Americans on three.......1.....2.....HUH?!?!?!)
Could it be possible to yearn for aging? To consider every year an accomplishment, and that the accompanying pounds and wrinkles are simply additional proof? What a contradiction to the notion that the world belongs to the young. It seems like one often has a sense of an approaching deadline or expiration date if you no longer have the body of a 20 year old. There is an urgency - driven by ambition or by enterprise or by the fear of missing an unspoken deadline - to have accomplished things by certain ages. And if those things don't happen within the time frame, one might feel some kind of remorse or failure. I know first hand that for actors and, to a great extent, musicians in LA, there's often a belief that if you haven't "made it" by the time you're 35, your chances of being discovered are going to decrease with each passing year.
Time is the enemy.
Forgive me if I'm placing a cynical filter over things. But I myself had some kind of internal list that I had hoped to have completed before my 30th birthday. Some of which happened, some of it didn't.
And some of it did actually happen, but I just didn't recognize it at the time.
I don't know if it's a Holland thing, an Amsterdam thing, or a European thing in general, but where we live right now is a place that is nearly void of personal expectations aside from being a good citizen and a responsible neighbor. Beyond the basic fundamental implications of the Golden Rule, one can live as they please without condemnation. To march to the beat of any drummer willing to play for them.
This includes expectations of when (or even if) to marry, to have children, or at what age one must stop doing things. There are 80-year-old women in our neighborhood who are in better shape than I am, having walked or biked for all of their daily needs for the greater part of a century. Truly, Amsterdammers in their twilight years are a hearty bunch.
Right or wrong, there is no rush to be the biggest, the best, the greatest, all before the first grey hair grows. And there's no shame in showing your colors as a person upwards of fifty years old. It only makes sense that the wisest and most experienced people in society will be ones to listen to.
All this being said, it wasn't completely surprising to me that the original Hoochie Koochie Man, the one who Hails Rock and Roll each morning for breakfast...Mr. Chuck Berry brought the Heineken Music Hall and its 5000+ audience members to their knees last night in a sold-out performance.
He played his guitar just like ringing a bell.
Nearly 82 years old, Chuck Berry proved himself again as an eternal teenager. Every lick, every move, every lyric celebrated wisdom in such a joyful way, you hardly even noticed you were getting schooled by the Yoda of Rock and Roll.
Okay...so a few beats were skipped. And certain chords and melodies were unarguably microtonal.
But to dance and sing an hour long set up there. To experience the ecstasy of playing rock and roll with other players (one of whom is his only son, Chuck Jr.). To make a joke about a tempo...saying it sounded like a funeral...to the thunderous applause of the audience. To dance his famous one-legged hop across the stage while singing about his (ahem) Ding-a-Ling. All of this in what looked like the body of a 25 year old, cloaked in a spangly red shirt befitting only a legend.
Can this really be the stuff of our 80s?!
Damn straight, it can.
Here's a giant salute to all the Sarah and Abrahams in our midst. To those who boldly go before us as examples of not only wisdom, but of the joy and celebration that can go with the journey.
I'll see you guys at Madison Square Garden in 2056.