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Observations: Counting blessings

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image Photo Mitch Traphagen

As a young old guy, I’m learning to count my blessings. Right now, I’m pretty happy where I am.

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years.  We grow old by deserting our ideals.  Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.  ~ Samuel Ullman (businessman, poet, humanitarian)

It turns out the half century mark is a difficult point in life; at least it was for me. Fortunately it is almost over — I don’t have to worry about the fact that I’m 50 because I am about to be 51. So yeah, I’ll be in my 50s and that’s just how I’ll roll. At least until I turn 60.

Fifty was a confusing year and I’ve taken some of you along on the bumpy ride through this column. New health issues crop up, people you know start dealing with serious challenges such as cancer (and even worse things) and some of them pass on. I don’t feel old but the rational part of my brain that lives for quantifying things reminds me that 50 could qualify as a historic building in many parts of Florida.

I write this column with numerous questions about life, hoping that the focus will not be on me but on you being able to relate with similar questions of your own. I think of it as a discussion as opposed to a monologue. Making this column about me would not only be incredibly boring but also the hallmark of a narcissist. I am many things, most likely including the former, but I try not to be the latter. Apparently, however, the ride I’ve described the past year has brought up some questions about my life. While my mind is still somewhat active and alert, I’ll answer a few of them:

Am I dying? Am I quitting the newspaper? Am I moving away?

No, no, someday — not today, not tomorrow.

Now that I think about it, that last answer could apply to all of those questions.

I’ve been working (for the most part) for this company since 2001 and several of the people I met on my first day in the office are people I’m still happy to see when I came to the office today. That in itself is rare. The world has changed a lot since I started my first big corporate job back in the late 1980s. At more and more companies, employees are largely commodities. Layoffs are commonplace, sometimes out of necessity, sometimes merely to goose the stock price. It seems for an increasing number of employees, there is little in the way of loyalty coming from employers. The Great Recession seemed to only quicken the pace of the change from “human resources” to “chattel management” - and that appears to be cementing itself in place. Humanity is taking a back seat to the necessity of survival.

But that’s not how things are at this company. Sure there are always challenges but the owner and management look at the employees to help find solutions, not be the solution through layoffs. The people that run this company really, truly care about the people who work here. They even care about our families. I’ve worked for some great companies in my life and the level of humanity in this company is rare, and it seems to be increasingly rare. More, I believe that philosophy comes through in the newspapers we produce every week. Many large, corporate-owned newspapers are struggling (and all-too-often failing) to survive; yet the three newspapers of this company tend to do fairly well. Since the people who run this place care deeply about us, that creates an environment for us to easily and sincerely care deeply about our readers and advertisers.

I realize that I’ve been whining about getting old. Okay, that’s largely over now. In a few weeks, I won’t be a 50-year-old guy anymore; I’ll be IN my 50s. Somehow that is much easier to accept -- it creates a place for me in the world. No longer am I an old young guy; I’m now a young old guy. I like that better for some reason.

Of course I know that being in my 50s isn’t all puppies and rainbows. You see, my brain doesn’t feel all that much different from when I was 18 (but oh hell yes my knees and back do, just not my brain).  Now that I’m a young old guy I look around and realize that it is people like me who are running the show — everything from the companies to the nation. My guess is, at least for the men, all of their brains, like mine, still largely feel the same as when they were 18.

That is a disconcerting thought. It is an awareness that was well summed up by author Kurt Vonnegut: “True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.”

Indeed.

As far as I know, at the moment I’m not dying, at least not more than anyone else getting by with the fatal condition known as life. As far as I know, if I’m lucky, I’ll still be writing for this newspaper tomorrow and next week.  As far as I know, I’m not moving to New York tomorrow — but I would like to someday. Michelle and I love the city and I have a few centuries of family history there. Perhaps it is the spirit of my ancestors that makes it feel like home to us. But for right now, just at this very moment, I’m happy with where I am. I have counted my blessings and it’s a big number. Bigger, in fact, than my number of years.

Yes, I know — that’s a lot.

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