I turned 60 years old on Tuesday. I’m not thrilled with the idea, but there’s nothing I can do about it, of course. And as the saying goes, “Age is just a number.” Or to quote actress Billie Burke (Glinda, the Good Witch, in The Wizard of Oz), “Age is something that doesn’t matter, unless you are a cheese.” Nonetheless, 60 is a big, round milestone.
Searching through my sheet music for September-themed songs for this month’s volunteer piano playing, it dawned on me that I’ve always associated September with the start of a new school year, a time of new beginnings. But September songs are meaningful to my older audiences for a different reason: “September years” or “autumn years” are the later years of life. Summer fades, fall follows, suggesting that the end is not far away.
In 1965, Frank Sinatra put together an album on this theme, featuring orchestral arrangements by Gordon Jenkins. Sinatra selected songs that reflect on aging and the inevitable passage of time: “Last Night When We Were Young” (1936), “This Is All I Ask” (1958), “Try to Remember” (1960), “It Was a Very Good Year” (1961). I’m sure that “My Way” would have made the cut, but it hadn’t yet been written. I must mention that Sinatra was a mere 50 years old when he released this album! He lived another three decades.
In the album’s title song, “The September of My Years,” Sammy Cahn’s lyrics are bittersweet:
One day you turn around and it’s summer,
Next day you turn around and it’s fall.
And the springs and winters of a lifetime,
Whatever happened to them all?
As a man who has never paused at wishing wells,
Now I’m watching children’s carousels,
And their laughter’s music to my ears.
And I find that I’m smiling gently as I near September,
The warm September of my years,
The golden warm September of my years.
Most of the octo- and nonagenarians I meet when I visit senior facilities have a clear-eyed view of the place they’ve reached in their lives. Their stories are nearly complete, their legacies largely determined. When I express sadness upon hearing of a death among their fellow residents, I get a no-nonsense response like “That’s what we’re all here for.” These are vibrant elderly people who enjoy their lives, their communities, their activities, but they recognize their time is limited. Some do admit surprise at seeing their wrinkled selves in the mirror, because they still feel young inside.
Life passes so very quickly. Earlier this year I was talking about significant birthdays with a friend who was also born in 1953. “I’m turning 60,” she announced, paused, then added, bewildered, “How can that be?”
Copyright © 2013 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
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