Last month, Robert Reich, one of my favorite political commentators and journalists, wrote an incredibly disappointing and ageist article titled, “Is Biden Too Old?”
People’s competencies, abilities and capacities do change as we age. A serious health condition or a disability may occur regardless of one’s age. Whether President Biden is physically and mentally fit to run for President in 2024 is a question for him, his family, his medical team and the American people to answer, and should not be based on broad-brush ageist stereotypes.
Last month, Joni Mitchell performed a 13-song set at the Newport Folk Festival. It was her first time back to Newport in 53 years. It was her first full-length live set in over 20 years. It was her first public performance in nine years.
When I watched and listened to those songs, it brought tears to my eyes.
Tears to my eyes? Hell, it made me cry. I remembered the first time I went to the Newport Folk Festival, as a senior in high school, to see … who else? Joni Mitchell. All at once, I remembered her amazing lyrics, her wondrous voice, the excitement she generated on stage and some of the other great concerts I’ve been to. Parts of my whole life kind of flashed before me.
As I watched the videos and listened, it was a poignant moment for me. I could feel the pride and confidence in the future that Joni had represented. And, looking back, I could sense some of our generational arrogance of 50+ years ago, as well.
Sitting at my laptop, watching Joni perform her song ‘The Circle Game’, I felt a circle closing. I recalled seeing her 1967 Newport performance and how her music has accompanied most of my life. “We can’t return, we can only look behind from where we came, and go round and round in the circle game.”
Part of aging is becoming aware of circles closing. This summer I watched my granddaughter play softball on the very team I helped start so that her mother would have a place to play and excel, like the boys did.
The circles that we feel closing may be different, but we all have them.
I watched more of the videos. I saw Joni Mitchell moving in rhythm, laughing, shimmying her shoulders and belting out the last line of “Big Yellow Taxi.” I saw the surprise, admiration and tears in her back-up singers’ eyes as Joni led them with creative interpretation. She performed sitting in a regal chair. Her soprano voice was now an alto. Joni Mitchell — a shining example of how life is change.
After her debilitating brain aneurysm in 2015, Joni had to re-learn how to get out of a chair, how to play the guitar, and she had to teach herself how to sing again. There she was, a living example of how strength, determination and resilience are integral parts of being old, and a role model for us at all ages. A far cry from what our ageist culture teaches.
I wonder if Reich would ever write an article titled, “Is Joni Too Old?”