PERSPECTIVE: reflections on turning 65 by Cantor Andrew Bernard

Many a day as I’m stretching on the pool deck getting ready for my swim, I tell one of my lifeguard friends, “Don’t get old. Just hold where you are. It’s not worth it.” And then I continue trying to work out the soreness in the shoulders before I get into the water. The truth is, yes — some of the aches and pains that hold me back are annoying. But overall, this getting-older thing is pretty great — mostly because it comes with a perspective that makes life so much richer.

The perspective of age enhances the wonderful things we experience and tempers the challenges we face.

My sense of the value of friendships has never been more acute. For such a long time, it was routine that people came and went in my life. That still happens. But the friendships that continue on seem all the more precious. I’m able to treasure the friends I’ve lost touch with because I realize that my life is better because they were a part of it. And as new friendships begin to grow, I feel not only the excitement of fresh possibilities but a sense of the sacred blossoming before my eyes.

I miss those who have passed on: parents, grandparents, a best friend. Yet mingled with the sadness of loss, I feel such gratitude for the ways in which each of them shaped my life. And having worked “in the trenches” of a pediatric hospital, I am in awe of the power and impact of a young life — and am thankful each day that I can keep these children ever-present in this world by passing the gifts they gave me on to others.

And I am thankful for home. When I think of all of the wonderful places I’ve lived and traveled, I am grateful for the perspective that helped me understand the value of home and brought me back to the place that brings me true peace.

The ability to put difficult challenges and turbulent times in perspective is also a gift.

There are just a few days left in my freshman year of high school. This particular Wednesday, like every other morning, my clock radio alarm comes on at 7:00am. The first words I hear report the overnight shooting of Robert F. Kennedy. It is Wednesday, June 5, 1968.

I can still vividly picture my fifth grade classroom when the announcement that Kennedy’s brother, President John F. Kennedy, was shot. I remember seeing on the TV news the chaotic scenes of civil rights protests and antiwar demonstrations. Only two months before the death of RFK was the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. And now to wake up to another terrible story on that June 1968 morning had me wondering whether the horrendous news would ever end. And it wasn’t over.

Within a couple of months we would see scenes of the violent 1968 Democratic National Convention. And for a future Oberlin student, the tension climaxed on May 4, 1970 with the shooting deaths of four unarmed students by the Ohio National Guard at nearby Kent State University. Although it would be another 16 months before I entered Oberlin as a freshman, my college friends, who by then were juniors and seniors, would recount in vivid detail the Oberlin response at the time: the campus shutting down before the end of the year as students left to participate in a variety of protests; the student body of the Conservatory of Music, determined to use their talents, mounting a performance of Mozart’s Requiem in the span of just three days, and traveling to Washington, D.C. with five busloads of choir and orchestra members to offer this solemn masterpiece at the National Cathedral.

It was an anxiety-producing time, especially for a teenager whose sense of the world was just emerging. From the perspective of 2018, however, I see it now as simply a part of the ebb and flow of history, albeit an unusually turbulent time. We are currently living in a time where, regardless of your political affiliation, each day’s news adds to the tense atmosphere. It often feels overwhelming and again I find myself wondering when or if it will ever end. But now the anxiety — which is very real — is tempered by the knowledge that we are living through just another cycle in the unceasing high and low tides of history. As difficult as it is, it will pass.

So this perspective that comes with turning 65 is rather awesome. Yes, I have to spend extra time working out the aches and pains. But I’m not letting those stop me. In fact, I’m determined to stare them down. Participating in my YMCA’s 100-Mile Swim Challenge — the challenge being to swim at least 100 miles over the course of a year — I’m spending this birthday crossing the halfway point on my way to 500 miles! Yes, my lifeguard friends think I’m crazy. But staring down the challenges of age insures that I won’t get mired in the aches and pains, but rather maintain my perspective — focusing on the incredible blessings that come with this new chapter of my life.