Farewell to the Sixties

It's true what you have read and heard. I will leave "NOW" after the election later this year. I am not leaving because anyone is pushing me, but because something is pulling me.

I turn 70 this year and while there's no marker at the border, I know I'm entering unfamiliar territory. It's as if some imaginary trip wire breaks and the little odometer on your psychic dashboard starts clicking faster and faster. All of a sudden the horizon that once seemed far, far away, looms right there in front of you. You feel an irresistible urge to slow down, take your foot off the accelerator, touch it to the brake -- gently, but surely -- and start negotiating yourself out of the fast lane.

You begin to think about that side road you never took, the country lane you once spotted in the rearview mirror and promised yourself you would return to one day, but never did. All of a sudden you want to get to know the person who's been sitting there in the seat beside you all these years, when the only thing zipping by faster than the traffic was life itself.

You don't want to quit altogether. You keep thinking of those lines from Tennyson's "Ulysses": How dull it is to pause, to make an end/ to rust unburnished, not to shine in use.

But slowing down is not quitting. And you also think about the legendary black pitcher Satchel Paige, who spent most of his career in what was then called the Negro Baseball League. By the time the racial barriers were relaxed, he was, as baseball measures the life span, an old man. That didn't stop him from doing the one thing he knew how to do well -- he just kept on pitching, and pitching, and pitching.

When a reporter asked him, "How old are you?" He replied: "How old would you be if you didn't know how old you was?" One day, though, he found out, and even Satchel Paige handed the ball to a younger man and left the mound for good. Knowing when is the trick; timing is what counts.

All the septugenarians I've interviewed through the years have taught me something. They lived long enough to turn their experience into wisdom, and to share it, which is the reason I wanted to talk to them in the first place; listening to the wisdom of the elders can be like tasting vintage wine.

Recently I interviewed the actor Hal Holbrook, who has been performing as Mark Twain for 50 years. He's 79 now, and still at it -- just as good as Hal Holbrook as he is as Mark Twain. I learned that acting is not his only gig; he's a sailor, too. Once he traveled 2400 miles through the Pacific in a 40-foot boat ... alone. What wisdom could he share from that experience? "You have to learn to give to nature just enough to stay alive and stay upright," he said. It comes down to that, on sea, or shore, on television, in life. You learn to give to nature just enough to stay upright ... perhaps to make your way back to that road never traveled.

Truth is, the foreign country ahead of me -- the seventies -- is not as exotic in my imagination as my long-ago twenties or thirties. Trying to remember those years is like taking down an old map from a musty attic to discover the world laid out there is gone forever. So you give a quick check in the rearview mirror and a light touch on the pedal; all that's left is the open road and you're grateful once again to be on it.

Bill Moyers is the anchor of the PBS news magazine, "Now With Bill Moyers."


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