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Birthday Meditations on a Beatles Song

Thursday, May 12, 2022 - 16:16

For those of us of a Certain Age, who grew up in a Certain Cultural Context, there is a birthday that comes with a default soundtrack.

When I get older losing my hair, many years from now

Some sentiments in the song mark the point of view as strongly gendered—and gendered within certain specific cultural expectations.

Will you still need me?

The speaker assumes that the value they provide will eventually decline—

Will you still feed me?

--while the listener is not granted the respite of age. Nuturing and service are expected to continue.

If I’d been out till quarter to three, would you lock the door?

And only the speaker is framed as socializing freely outside the home, with the expectation that this will be tolerated. The queries and images assume a highly specific life script.

Every summer we can rent a cottage in the Isle of Wight, if it's not too dear; we shall scrimp and save. Grandchildren on your knee

Knowing the authors, this image of respectable working-class conventionality carries an inescapable edge of satire, but a kindly satire. And today—both in the British society that spawned it, and in my own American society—the image of an idyllic, relaxing retirement in which only a little scrimping and saving is necessary to enjoy a few pleasures is out of reach for too many. Retirement age creeps upward and the equivalent of a summer cottage on the Isle of Wight may be only a fantasy. Even for those of us with traditional retirement plans, nothing is certain.

You'll be older too, and if you say the word, I could stay with you

How many people still assume that they will find a relationship in which you can expect to grow old together? My parents, and both sets of my grandparents all celebrated 50th wedding anniversaries. As a lesbian, I always knew that the legal system would deny me even the theoretical possibility of achieving the same feat. But that paradigm was always what I measured my life against and found it wanting.

I can be handy, mending a fuse...I can knit a sweater by the fireside...Sunday [usually Saturday] mornings go for a ride...Doing the garden, digging the weeds

It’s a good life. Truly it is.

Who could ask for more?

Yes. Yes, sometimes I could.

Will you still need me?

I do, you know, want to be needed—or if not “needed”, at least valued. One of my persistent psychological failure modes is the belief that I must provide value to people in order to find social acceptance. It doesn’t matter how often people assure me it’s not the case, this is a fixed part of my personality and unlikely to change.

Will you still feed me?

Feeding takes a lot of different forms. Nutrition is far from the most important way we feed each other.

Send me a postcard, drop me a line stating point of view

I’m bad at the whole spontaneous casual communication thing. I remember, when I was much younger, coming near to having panic attacks at the thought of contacting someone out of the blue without a specific purpose “just to chat”. How did people do that? Social media makes it easier today (and I sometimes wonder how different my life would have been if the internet had existed when I was young), but throughout my life I’ve tended to drift away from people if there wasn’t a structural context that brought us together. It’s on me; it’s not other people’s job to telepathically determine that I’d like to keep in contact. And social media still defaults to passive consumption, rather than interaction, much of the time. I’ve always hoped that being a “content creator” would fulfill my part of the reaching process and inspire people to drop me a line (see previous comment about being valuable).

Yours sincerely, wasting away

But all in all, it’s a good life. And I’m not sure it would have been possible for me to take any road but the one I’m walking.

Mine for evermore

Birthdays can be a time for taking stock—for looking backward and forward. For asking those eternal questions.

Will you still need me? Will you still feed me?

(With apologies to John Lennon and Paul McCartney)

Major category: 
historical