Young at Heart
Back when they used to write songs the way they no longer do today, the composer Johnny Richards penned these words: “Fairy tales can come true/ It can happen to you/ If you’re young at heart” and the penultimate stanza, “If you should survive/To a hundred-and-five/Think of all you’ve derived/ Out of being alive.”
In his 90s and still performing in Las Vegas, George Burns liked to sing “Young at Heart” between cigars. Retirement communities have co-opted the tune to suggest there’s joviality on site, not just 24-hour medical attention. And more than a few septuagenarians I know quote freely from the song to illustrate that the wrinkles around their faces do not paint an accurate portrait of the soul that resides out of sight.
It’s a lovely concept. Unfortunately, so much of being an adult requires sublimating the youthful impulses and crazy dreams we once harbored. We have children and mortgages and careers to worry about. There’s no time for fairy tales.
The Internet industry has tried with some success to put infantilism back into adult life —My Yahoo; My Ebay; mine, mine, mine — but the script grownups are expected to follow leaves little time for fanciful daydreams made real. Perhaps this is why casino gambling is so popular. Seated before a slot machine or blackjack table, otherwise responsible people may momentarily forget their strict game plan and simply play, simply take a chance.
Making a new friend is. Learning a new skill. Discovering a new place. Being open to the wonders of our world — that’s what people who are young at heart seem to do with great ease and with great passion. How marvelous to see adults go back to school not to enhance their marketability but because they really want to know more about archeology or France or chemistry. How inspiring to read the work of a first-time author, age 68. How grand to see vitality and vigor in those who are elderly in numbers only.
Being young at heart is a fine goal. Reaping the rewards of your lifetime effort, feeling 35 though your driver’s license says you’re 59, is even finer.