This is a big week for Rosellen and me. March 16th will mark our 60th wedding anniversary and I would be remiss not to make that the subject of this week’s blog post. Our weekend was filled with celebrations, one day with the members of our beloved Jewish community and one day with family and some of our dearest friends. I’m writing this on March 15th, a day before our actual anniversary date. Our plan for tomorrow is to immerse ourselves in the beauty of the orchid show at the Chicago Botanic Garden. A touch of beauty seems right for the occasion.
I had wanted to share some of what was said at the weekend celebrations. I began thinking about my contribution to the events around the time when there was an explosion of publicity about the new ChatGPT in the media. I wondered what it might have to say about our anniversary, so I consulted our New Age oracle with the following request/command: Write me a speech on the occasion of our 60th wedding anniversary.
It obeyed almost instantly, and I was going to reproduce its creation here, but unfortunately, the Gods had other plans for my blog. All that remains in my folder for the occasion are the menus of what was served at our celebrations, so you’ll have to take my word that the Chat speech was pure fluff, a condensation of some of the awful stuff contained in the millions of documents that it had been fed. (The P in GPT stands for pre-trained.) Somebody must have said this drivel at some point about “the many wonderful years that had been granted to my wife and I (that grammatical error was part of what it delivered to me.) All generic. No real wife in evidence, only a spouse. Who refers to someone they love as a “spouse?”
In any case, I read that piece to our guests as if it was my own before announcing that anyone who thought that I had actually written that mush was no longer my friend. I then proceeded to try to paint a picture of a real wife named Rosellen and a real relationship with the strong bones to last three score years. She was the wife who indulged my sports obsessions and even occasionally joined me in them; who knew the right direction the toilet paper should emerge from the roller (very important!); who was my daily walking partner as we moved ever more slowly through the world. You get the idea. It was all the drippings that it takes to build a beautiful sandcastle, the stuff that Mr. or Mrs. Chat is – so far at least – blind to.
Rosellen’s contribution at one of the parties was an accounting of our very brief courtship, so brief in fact that we barely knew each other when we married at 23; that made arriving at this big number anniversary a real longshot. It was a matter of sheer dumb luck that when we pulled the handle on the one-armed bandit, the pictures in the windows aligned so perfectly. (Can you tell that I’ve never really pulled one of those handles?) We enjoyed the same things, shared the same politics, respected and were interested in each other’s work. Sure, we get annoyed with each other and squabble in ways that friends and family find either amusing or distressing, but they’re just ripples on a surprisingly smooth surface, smooth enough in fact that some might find it boring. There are occasions when the word boring actually has positive connotations, and I am the beneficiary of one of those.
Jennifer Senior is a writer who has a knack for finding subjects that touch on universal human experiences but have been hiding in plain sight from most observers. In the April issue of The Atlantic she tackles one that has intrigued me for as long as I can remember. Senior asked people how old they are “in their heads,” what researchers have labeled subjective age. She discovered that, with some exceptions and inevitable variations people from their 30s through their 70s subtract twenty percent in their heads from their real ages. Senior herself goes a bit further. She is 53 but feels 36.
Regardless of what others were seeing when they looked at me, for many years I followed the trajectory that Senior describes – always younger in my head than the calendar and the mirror attested to. But something has changed. When I now confront staggering numbers like 60 years of marriage and 83 years on the planet, the gap between subjective and real age evaporates. The face and the body that confront me in the mirror are not to be denied, nor can what lies ahead. My favorite headline from The Onion says, “Mortality Rate Holds Steady at 100%.” I am not the least bit eager to die, but I also don’t want to return to an earlier period of my life. I am proud of the road I’ve traveled that have produced these big numbers and prefer to keep that Janus head pointing forward.
That acceptance is infinitely easier because of my wonderful traveling partner. I’m a lucky guy. Happy Anniversary, my love.