97 and CountingBy Michael Barmak, Copyright 2003
December 31, 2006
In this lighthearted article, Michael poses the question, "How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?" From this question, he helps you tune into what might be loving to you.
So what's my reaction when the woman behind the counter at the Social Security office tells me that according to her computer I was born in 1906?
a. I'm not surprised. I've been waiting on line so long I was expecting to receive a discount on a cemetery plot.
b. Does this mean I'm really the father of my parents?
c. Social Security owes me 41 years of back payments and I want it in one lump sum! And I want it now!
d. You really mean 97 in dog years.
I show her my birth certificate, passport, and a picture that I keep in my wallet of me as a baby in the backseat of my dad's 1959 Mercury. She compares my birth date on my documents to what's on her computer screen.
"This is highly unusual," she says. "It's like something you'd read in Ripley's Believe it or Not!" She eyes her collection of National Enquirer magazines. I don't make the connection until I see a piece of paper taped to her desk above the publications that says "National Enquirer Tips Hotline" followed by an 800 number. I immediately bring her attention back to my request for a new social security card. She says it will only take a few minutes and disappears behind a row of file cabinets.
I remember being 35 years old (88 according to Uncle Sam) and telling my roommate, Catherine, that I was an old man. She used to cringe when I described myself as "half-dead." I explained to her that my dad died when he was 59 years old, his father at 49 so I'd be extremely lucky if I reached 70.
I'm tempted to call Catherine and tell her the good news: I've outlived the men in my family. The bad news is that I could go at any moment. However, I can't for the life of me (which by Uncle Sam's calculations isn't a lot) remember her last name to look up her phone number. My brain search is interrupted by the Social Security representative trying to get my attention. "Hey Alzheimer's!" Is she trying to tell me something? I breathe a sigh of relief when I realize she's only saying, "Hey old timer."
She hands me my new card and tells me I need to sign it before I can leave. "This will prevent identity theft," she says. "Although at your age, they'd have to dig somebody up to fill your shoes!" She laughs and takes out a copy of my original social security card complete with my signature when I was six years old. She places it next to my newly signed card. Identical. My signature hasn't changed in 38 years!
She's gloating like she just won the office pool for coming up with the most reasons to deny a claim. She tells me that I came in today 97, thought I was 44 and now it looks like I'm really 6 years old.
I figure now is a good time to leave before she pulls out her Sylvia Browne book and proves conclusively that I'm reliving a past life. At this point I don't know if I'm old enough to crawl, walk or if I should ask to be wheeled out of here.
She hands me another card slightly larger and more colorful than my social security card. "Here, take this. Something from me to you. You might find it helpful. It's not every day you find out you're not who you think you are!
I place my new social security card in my wallet and then look at the other card. There's a black box I'm supposed to scratch off below the heading: "Words to Live By." "Here's a penny to use," she says. "You better spend it while you still can. And I wouldn't be buying any green bananas if I were you."
Underneath the black I find a question: "How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?"
What the...How did I get this one? I want to show this to 'Miss Social Insecurity' but I also don't want to end up on the cover of the National Enquirer. I stuff the card in my pocket and quickly exit her office. As I'm riding the elevator down to the lobby, I pull out the card and re-read the words "How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?" I'm still holding the card when I step out of the elevator and pass by a newsstand. I always buy the New York Times but this time I pick up The New York Post. I seem to be in the mood to read the comics.
My stomach starts to growl, so I stop off for lunch at my favorite restaurant. While eating, I look at my watch. It's not even 11am! Now I'm the kind of person who usually decides when to eat by looking at the clock rather than when I feel hungry. Lunch is never before noon! What is going on with me?
A card on my table is promoting Karaoke tonight. I think about my inbox at work overflowing with assignments that are due tomorrow. Then I remember how much I loved singing in high school and how I have always dreamed of winning a Grammy for "Best New Artist." How old would I be if I didn't know how old I was? I sign up for the first slot tonight.
Ever since I left Social Security this morning, I've been feeling more joyful. I wonder what other choices I will make if I continue to follow my heart.
How do I want to spend the rest of my day? What do I want for dinner tonight and what movie would I like to see afterwards? Where would I like to go on my winter vacation? Where do I want to live? What kind of work do I want to do?
I'm aware that my body feels tired. I remember how I loved taking naps after lunch when I was in kindergarten. How old would I be if I didn't know how old I was? I call my office and tell my secretary to cancel my appointments for the rest of the afternoon.
Now that's loving.
Michael Barmak, CSW, LCSW is an Inner Bonding Facilitator in private practice. He works with individuals and couples in person and on the phone and can be reached at 908-276-8191 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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