If you live long enough, it's inevitable: you will, in one form or another, do some stock-taking of your life. A sizing up. An account balancing. Or a simple, “how'm I doing?”
There is no particular time or year of life when it comes along. In fact, I think for some it is an ongoing monitor that pops up now and then all through adulthood. But in later years, it becomes more urgent.
Even moreso, as I learned recently from personal experience, when a life-threatening or “just” a serious illness interrupts the steady flow of days. Then a reckoning feels important.
For me and a few others I've spoken with about this, it usually begins with a narrative of one's life.
I never had big plans for mine – actually, I never had any plan. I have a strong memory of a certain day in my mid-teens realizing it was highly unlikely I would grow up to cure cancer. Teens do that sort of grandiose thinking but even then I knew I didn't have the wherewithall for saving mankind.
When college decisions were at hand, I had no earthly idea what I wanted to study and not a single thought about what I wanted to do with my life.
You'll recall that in those days, late 1950s, girls were expected to get married and have babies which a goodly number of my classmates did within a week or two of graduation.
I knew that wasn't for me so I went to work at a typing job. And then another. And another.
It never came to mind to note that I didn't have a real career. No one told us girls back then that a formal, planned career might be an option.
Everyone understood that we could be office workers and waitresses or, if we went to college, teachers and nurses. Women doctors and lawyers hardly existed in those days so most of us didn't think in those terms.
After seven years of pounding keyboards, I married and became the producer of my husband's radio talk show. The 1960s, of course, were an exhilirating time of social upheaval and I booked musicians, political radicals, dissenters, women's movement and civil rights activists, politicians and more as we reported on and chronicled the zeitgeist of the times.
It became the number one talk show in New York City radio and then I moved on to produce television shows for 25 years. In an unexpected instance of great, good luck, I got in on the earliest days of the commercial internet as managing editor of the first CBS News website.
I wouldn't trade my “career” for anything. I met kings and queens and movie stars and heads of state. I worked with the best and the brightest in pretty much all areas of life – music, medicine, politics, art, entertainment, literature, science, fashion, theater and movies and more.
It was my job to learn something of what those people knew and help them make sense of it for television and, later, the internet. They, experts in their fields, were the college education I'd skipped and it has lasted all my life.
When I was forced into retirement 14 years ago, I had already begun this blog so all that changed, aside from loss of a paycheck, were more frequent posts and a shorter commute - from the bedroom to my home office.
Well, work was not quite all that changed. The biggest, most difficult outcome was the necessity to leave my home of 40 years, New York City, when – in the shock of a lifetime – I found no one hires 63-year-olds, particularly in technology. I had no idea then that ageism existed much at all until it happened to me, and certainly not that it was so widespread even among people younger than I.
Now I know and it hasn't gotten any better since then.
You'll note that I didn't mention another marriage or children. That's because there weren't any and unlike most of my life, they were deliberate decisions. Regrets? None about not having a child or two but there is a wonderful and brilliant man I probably should have married...
Certainly I've made varieties of poor decisions along the way, and you don't get to know the things I've said and done of which I'm deeply ashamed.
On the other hand, apparently my mom and dad instilled in me a decent sense of right and wrong, good and evil. In the particular political era of our time, I am regularly shocked out of my senses at the enormity of the lies, misdeeds, avarice, iniquities and crimes committed by almost every high-level elected official and appointee in our federal government.
I am grateful to know I'm am not capable of what they do, although I am fairly sure I can't take credit for it – it's just is.
Sometimes I think the way I made my living, mostly related to entertainment with some politics thrown in, was too frivolous – that I would be happier with myself at this age if I had chosen something of more benefit to the world and other people.
During this past year that I spent in close proximity to a lot of medical, health and hospital workers, I see they are put together differently from me. Their care, concern and patience is genuine, manifest every day with their unending kindness to cranky, tired, frightened, sick people who are often in pain and on their worst behavior.
I know me and I know I could never match the standard set by these amazing people who turn their entire working lives over to helping others. So it's just as well I did something else with my life.
Not that I actually made a choice. A few years after I had conceded to myself that I had no idea what I wanted from life, sometime in my twenties, I made a decision to just follow my nose and see where it would take me through the coming years. It didn't work out too badly.
Recently, I ran across a quotation from the musician Elton John that sums up my 77 years and continues to apply:
“If you let things happen, that is a magical life.”
“Let things happen” is, for me, just a nicer way of saying that I never bothered to choose how I wanted to live. I think that's a failing – a fairly big one - but not something I can fix now and anyway, my life has been close enough to magical to be okay.
Have you done any taking stock?