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Observations: About that wisdom thing...

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image Perhaps with age does come wisdom. But, as these flags carried in honor of fallen heroes during a Memorial Day ceremony in Sun City Center Center illustrate, the cost of wisdom gained is often high. Mitch Traphagen Photo

“Don’t fear the years,” said one character in the movie. “Getting older makes you wise.”

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

Late on Saturday night while my wife was sleeping, I watched a movie entitled About 50. Perhaps it is no coincidence that in just one short month I will turn 50. Perhaps it is also no coincidence that the protagonist in the film, a 50-year-old man, drove a Porsche. I drive a Porsche.

It wasn’t a great film, but I could relate to far too much of it. I dread turning 50. In just a month, I’ll no longer check the 35–49 box on questionnaires that ask my age. Instead, I’ll be checking the 50–64 box. Being 50 has to be the adult version of adolescence — I’m not entirely a senior, but I’m not young, either. But I am spending my Saturday nights watching a movie on my iPad while my (younger) wife sleeps.

“Don’t fear the years,” said one character in the movie. “Getting older makes you wise.”

I don’t fear the years so much as I regret the lost opportunities. Somehow, wisdom seems to have escaped me. With each passing day, I seem to have more questions and fewer answers. Life itself is becoming more and more confusing to me. I can’t sit back and accept things with the supposed Buddha-like wisdom of the elderly, I almost involuntarily have to ask myself, “What the hell is going on here?”

Brittany Brea Gordon was a 24-year-old woman and a specialist with the U.S. Army serving in Afghanistan when she was killed near Kandahar, along with five others, by a suicide bomber on Oct. 13. She is thought to be the first female soldier from the Tampa Bay Area to be killed in action. Male or female, it is a big deal and, in my opinion, it is incumbent upon all of us to stop and think, and perhaps offer a prayer, whenever we hear such news. As a nation, we sent them into harm’s way. As a nation, and more importantly as individuals, we should take a moment to mourn every one that returns home in a casket. They gave their lives for us and that is a debt we cannot repay.

But it is conceivable that some people may have missed that tragic news. Just before Ms. Gordon gave her life for her country, the news broke that all-star wrestler and media figure Hulk Hogan had a fling with a radio shock-jock’s wife, the tryst was videotaped and had surfaced on the web. I don’t care who you are, the passing of a United States servicewoman should take great precedence over any story that involves a guy named, “Bubba The Love Sponge.”

But that’s not how life seems to work. Yes, the woman at the center of the tryst, Heather Clem, is attractive and for as long as PR guys have walked the earth, sex sells. But our priorities are pretty messed up if an all-star wrestler having a videotaped romp with a supposed-friend’s wife can bump the passing of an American hero from regional discourse.

Another line from that movie that stuck out was, “The key to life is not figuring out who you are, it’s figuring out who you aren’t.”

The movie was slightly depressing because it uncomfortably mirrored my life, and, no doubt, the lives of many others my age. Money, aging parents, younger, cheaper and more energetic people displacing the older and supposedly wiser in the workplace, a friend with cancer, all have the tendency to be not only depressing but also real day-to-day subjects. With that line, the writers hit the nail on the head.

At nearly a half-century old, I am actively working on figuring out who I am not. Despite their wealth and fame, I’m glad I am not an all-star wrestler or a shock jock with a ridiculous name. Their lives sound far more miserable than mine does. I may not know what I want to be when I grow up, but at least I think I am growing up a little. I’m not sure Hogan, Bubba The Love Sponge or Ms. Clem are doing the same.

As if the ever-increasing number that acts as a descriptor next to my name wasn’t enough to make me aware of the passing of time, the realization that the names of people I grew up with have passed on certainly is enough. Johnny Carson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Andy Griffith, and, just last week, George McGovern are all gone now. I think all of them found who they were by discovering who they weren’t. All of them were successful in doing so.

I’m not certain Ms. Gordon had the opportunity to find out who she wasn’t, but I know who she was. To me, she was an American hero, a woman who not only served in the most literally sense of the word but also gave her life for her nation. If I could have given her some of the years I’ve wasted I would have, but since I can’t, I will mourn her passing, and say a prayer for her family and her friends, along with a prayer of thanks for her. She knew her priorities, and she is now helping me with mine. Perhaps getting older does make one wise, it’s unfortunate the price is sometimes so high.

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