I just turned 60. To celebrate this event, the staff at the News & Review dressed in black, decorated my office in a senior theme and presented me with numerous age-appropriate gifts, including adult diapers, a walker, and the most touching gift of all, stool softener. I was sincerely moved by their efforts.
Fortunately, I am in good health, so it will be some time before I can make full use of these presents, but I expect there will come a time when I will be looking for that box of stool softener.
People ask me what it feels like to turn 60. I feel great. I work out excessively and have no major complaints. But I certainly have a different perspective on life than the 22-year-old Jeff vonKaenel who came to work at the Santa Barbara News & Review in 1973.
Much has happened since then. The changing role of women, the building of the environmental movement, the collapse of much of America’s safety net, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the expansion of the civil-rights movement, the United States moving from a creditor nation to a debtor nation, the computer revolution and the failure of my beloved Cleveland Indians to win a World Series.
As I have seen and experienced more, my outlook has changed. The difference in my thinking can be illustrated by how I used to react to “Burn Down the Mission,” an Elton John song about the common people taking revenge on a corrupt noble. The 22-year-old Jeff vonKaenel loved that song. The 60-year-old Jeff vonKaenel wants to get rid of the noble, but thinks we should save the mission. We will need it for a new school, or perhaps a homeless shelter. I have evolved from “burn, baby, burn” to “build, baby, build.”
But what will be built? No one can foresee the future. The world is not headed in any particular direction. We create the future. People, especially people working together, make history.
And that is the joy. Whether it is a few hundred Americans making the difference in an election, a high-school teacher changing a young person’s life or a volunteer giving the world a few more smiles and a little less pain, each of us can change the world. And in the process, we can change ourselves. Living a life of passion is a blessed life.
At 60, I have way more time behind me than ahead of me. For me, that makes the remaining time so precious. I have had a blessed life. And I look forward to the time I have left.
Meanwhile, if you need some stool softener, I am your man. And if you need someone to celebrate with you the fact that you still have stools—I am your man.