In Long Beach, Growing Older

11:45am | My young friend Jaden — young, as in 3 — was giving voice to a flight of fancy: "I'm a hundred. I'm a hundred years old."

"Wow," I said. "That means you're 57 years older than I am, because I'm 43, and 43 plus 57 equals 100."

Somewhere in the midst of my mathematics it struck me that I was 40 years older than Jaden. How can I be 40 years older than anyone?

This week I turned 44, and — as is the case with each of us on every day, in every moment — I am older than I have ever been.

A populist bit of positivity is to focus on how similar we humans are to one another, how there is more that unites us than divides us, how we're all basically the same. But our DNA is 70% identical that of the sea sponge (> 98% to chimpanzees). Sameness isn't always all it's cracked up to be.

As much as I'm mightily impressed by the Darwinian commonality of life on Earth, maybe I find the variety more awe-inspiring. Consider yourself and Charles Manson, Muhammad Ali and O.J. Simpson, Paul McCartney and Mark David Chapman, Joseph Kony and Nelson Mandela, Beyoncé and Banksy, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and an indigenous person in a Brazilian rainforest who's never seen a television, Snookie and Noam Chomsky. The trip each of us is on may vary from another's so greatly that the similarity of our origins can seem so much biological trivia.

But time transcends in its uniting effect (place, culture, belief, age); it brings us all together.

"Time travels in divers[e] paces with divers[e] persons," Shakespeare wrote 400 years ago. But he was commenting on our short-term experience with this Great Unifier. "Time flies when you're having fun" is a subspecies of the Bard's observation. It may be an apt comment on the nature of chronological measurement in our private world, but we understand that the public truth is quite different. It doesn't matter how you register the passage of time: within 130 years of your birth, you will die.

If Einstein is to be believed (and experiments tend to support keeping such faith), there is a theoretical out. For example, his "Twin Paradox," a thought experiment to demonstrate an aspect of his General Theory of Relativity, illustrates for us how identical twins can age at quite different rates. 

But such "divers paces" are wholly dependent on existing in different "inertial frames." Your twin has to rocket away from you at a significant portion of the speed of light and come back for the phenomenon to show itself. Within the big inertial frame of Long Beach (L.A. County, California, the United States, Earth), eight years for you is eight years for me. 

I've lived in Long Beach for eight years, and along with all of you, I've gotten eight years older. Eight years seems like a chronological blip on the radar, yet it accounts for more than 10 percent of the entire life experience of everyone I know (and is more than double the time Jaden's been in this world). Like you, in that time I've seen friends marry and split up, be born and die, succeed and fail. Like you, I can mark time in myriad ways. Personal example: Previous election seasons: On the rear deck of the Villa Riviera meeting now-Mayor Bob Foster when he was a candidate I'd never heard of. At {open} back when it was in the East Village, seeing a screening of Street Fight1, hearing Brian Ulaszewski talk about his run for what has since been Suja Lowenthal's council seat. At {open} — this time relocated to Retro Row — interviewing Daniel Brezenoff (now Robert Garcia's legislative analyst — and Jaden's father) regarding his Green Party candidacy for the pre-census Congressional 37th seat that has been Laura Richardson's. 

For better and/or for worse, no one's life is in the same place it was eight years ago. And the world has gotten younger relative to each of us. Last week Jaden got a sister, and for a trice she was the youngest person in the world. But quickly she lost that title, all while the number of people older than her dwindled, as it always does, unrelentingly. It's as if we're all on this big conveyor belt, our relative positions to one another fixed. If we manage not to roll off one side or another, eventually we drop off the far end, as people always do.

But my focus here is not on death, but life, on a way in which we are truly, unbreakably bonded to one another, no matter our differences. As discomforted as I am by the inevitable shuffling off this mortal conveyor belt, I am touched by the thought that we're all confined to the same chronological cargo hold of the USS Inertial Frame (scratch the "USS": there's nothing uniquely American about it), as we sail on toward the Great Perhaps. I am eight years older than I was in 2004. You are eight years older. Long Beach is eight years older.

The progress of time is beyond our power to affect, but have much room to maneuver as we journey forward. Truly, we have no choice but to maneuver, because, broad-stroked appearances to the contrary, nothing stays the same. How much things change, whether they change for the better — that depends on the moves we make in the time we have.

Statistically we're told that on average Americans can expect about 10 eight-year spans before dropping off the conveyor. There are exceptions, of course — Shaun Lumachi, for example, got only four — but take care of yourself and manage to avoid terrible luck, and you can expect 10. 

If you're reading these words, probably you've gone through no fewer than three. I am in the middle of my sixth. We're moving forward, inexorably, to the far end. But we're moving forward as a group, and we get to choose how to decorate our little, local bit of the conveyor as we ride along. 

We'll never again be as young as we are right now. So what shall we do with our life and our youth? We're in this together, and there's no time to waste.

FOOTNOTES:

1Documentary film detailing the 2002 Newark, NJ mayoral campaign by Cory Booker against a 16-year incumbent mayor Sharpe James and his "powerful political machine." (Film spoiler: Booker loses. History spoiler: Booker is currently mayor of Newark.)

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