Reflecting on my aging process near my 70th birthday in Kiev, Ukraine.

How we respond to our aging process is an unique experience

Aging is what happens to us when we are busy living our lives. Although aging happens to everyone, I expect that each of us experiences it differently. I don't usually pay much attention to my age, but ever so often, I am reminded just how old I am. One of those moments occurred as I stood on a crowded Lexington Ave subway heading towards the Bronx in New York City. As the train rocked and rolled towards the Bronx, a woman tapped me on the shoulder and offered me her seat. "No, thank you, " was my immediate response because I did not understand why this woman in her mid-forties would want to give me her seat. My mind went into a loop imaging how old and tired I must look to motivate this behavior. It got worse. She insisted that I take the seat after my repeated, rejection of her offer. Many eyes on the crowded express train turned our way because we were creating a scene. I had to figure a quick answer to this dilemma. So, I negotiated with her. "We could share the seat." She agreed, and we sat together on the tiny seat until she got off the train at 125th Street. You could interpret my reaction to this woman's generosity in many different ways. I might have accepted her generous offer with a warm smile or made a joke of the fact that she saw how tired I was. I could have said that it was commendable if not typical for a woman to offer a man her seat on a crowded subway but I was glad she did because I was obviously very tired. Instead, I took a very defensive approach which revealed my discomfort with my aging.

Although I am aging, I want to believe that I am still strong. I play tennis three times a week and enjoy two hours of indoor soccer once a week. I travel as often as I can afford it. In 2017, traveled for four months of the year and my goal is to travel for twelve months consecutively sometime in the next two years. I want to believe that I still look youthful despite my seventy years on the planet. However, lately, I have been receiving some mixed messages. I was in a bar alone when an attractive woman sat down next to me. And after a brief conversation, she asked me how old I was. After saying that I was seventy, she said that she did not believe me. I was emphatic that it was my age despite my youthful appearance. Still disbelieving, she asked me to show her my drivers licenses. I reached for my wallet, took out my licenses and turned it over to her. After a quick review, she mumbled, "Ahh. You are an old fart." Then got up and left me at the bar wondering what she had in mind that this seventy-year-old man could not deliver. I guess that she was not looking for grandfatherly advice like what a date of mine informed me that she was only interested in. Ouch! Aging can be painful. 

When I was younger, I took pride in the fact that I hardly ever needed to visit a doctor. Not seeing the doctor regularly meant that my body was strong and healthy and I had no major discomfort. I was 35 years old the first time I saw the insides of a dental office and 45 years old when I had my first brush with major illness. Looking back, I feel like I had so many misguided beliefs. Now, I am a partner with my medical providers to keep me healthy and active as I age. At age 45, like a set alarm, I came down with diabetes. My mother was a diabetic who died in her eighties from diabetic complications and my father also died in his early eighties from hardening of the arteries which is also a complication of diabetes. So, I believe that diabetes hardcoded in my DNA. I have been managing diabetes for 25 years; at first primarily with exercise and now I manage it with insulin shots least 4 times a day and regular exercise. You could think that I felt like a victim suffering from diabetes but I don't. I feel like diabetes has been a catalyst for me becoming more proactive with my health which might result in longer and healthier life. Before I took little responsibility for my health management but now I am a partner with my many doctors. And I mean many doctors. I have a doctor for my pancreas, my heart, my kidney, my prostate, my feet and my eyes. I read graphs and other measures on how I am doing on a daily basis.

 

Celebrating Justin's 28th birthday and Jo Elizabeth's performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

Despite all the attention on my health, I almost died on New Year Eve in 2017. I went to Jamaica to celebrate New Year Eve and while walking on Negril Beach with a friend, we decided to stop at a Margaritaville, one of the well-known bars on the beach, to have a drink. I ordered a Jamaican Rum Punch. I must admit that I should not be ordered a Rum Punch because of the high level of alcohol and sugar in the drink but my nostalgia had the best of me. When I am in Jamaica, I want to recreate some of the pleasures I had as a young man growing up there and drinking Rum Punch during the holiday season is definitely one of them. My nostalgia had the best of me once before when riding a bus driving from Negril to Kingston. At one of the many bus stops, the strong smell of spicy Jamaican shrimp came rushing into my nostrils. I had to have it. I grew up eating spicy food and I love it. I bought the shrimp, ate them in a minute and enjoyed all the spicy flavors I expected from this delicious dish. However, I did not factor in the reality that I was living abroad now and my stomach could no longer tolerate this high level of spice. Ten miles down the road I had to run off the bus to the nearest bathroom to address my diarrhea.

So, here I was again doing the same thing with even more disastrous results. Margarettaville did not make the traditional Rum Punch which can be made if you follow the recipe below:
Jamaican Rum Punch Recipe
1 cup fresh lime juice.
2 cups grenadine syrup.
2 cups Jamaican white rum.
1 cup light rum.
2 cups fresh pineapple juice.
2 cups fresh orange juice.
orange slices for garnish.
pineapple slices for garnish.

Margarettaville had their own version of Rum Punch which I believe was just a mixture of different types of rum. I saw the bartender mixing the different rums but I thought he was making a drink for someone else. When he handed the drink to me, I was too embarrassed to say that this was not what I was expecting. I drank it and did not have a major reaction to it at the time. However, after sitting on a lounge chair to wait as my friend got her hair braided, I dozed off. However, just before I fell asleep, I had noticed everything turning grey and wondered what was happening. That was the last thing I remembered until I heard someone screaming my name. "Baron! Baron!" I opened my eyes to a scene where my friend and the woman who was braided her hair were in a panic. " Should we call an ambulance? We have been trying to wake you and could not. Your eyes were rolled back in your head." I did not realize that I had blacked out and was falling into a diabetic coma from my extremely high blood sugar condition. When I recovered my wits, I realized I was sweating profusely, cold and very weak. However, my brain was still working and I remembered that I had some insulin in my pocket. I took a shot and immediately recovered some of my strength. I decided that I did not want to go to hospital but back to my apartment. I still could not walk, so, my friend and a taxi driver held me up and walked me to his taxi. As soon as I arrived at my apartment, my body went to some violent convulsions which ended with vomit. After, many rounds of this, I was better. My body got rid of the rum and I could walk, talk and regain my strength. After a good shower, I was able to have dinner and welcome the New year on Negril beach.

 

At this point in my life, I realize that I have more years are behind me than in front of me and I think it is a good time for some reflection. My first nineteen years in Jamaica was all about survival. I was as poor as a church mouse with almost no support.  My mother left me when I was five years old to find work in America. My father had another family and made a valiant effort to spend a couple hours a day with me during my early years.  For all practical purposes, I lived alone without family from my fifth birthday until my seventeenth. I ran away from where I lived when I was seventeen and no one came looking for me. Now that I have my own children, I can't imagine how I survived those years. The only reason I survived those years was for two people physically was for Joyce and Clovis Mclean, the parents of my best friend Ronald who took me into their home and treated like one of their children. My other source of subsistence came from Althea Young, my high school math teacher who motivated me and opened my eyes to what was possible for me in this life. 

I learned early that my intelligence was my greatest asset and I had to use it to find my place in the world. Althea Young kept reminding me that I was bright enough to go to college, work for companies like IBM, enjoy Broadway plays and get my share of the best the world had to offer. Althea put the fire in my belly and as I attained each of these goals, I would write Althea to let her know that I had visited the Louvre, gone to see Equus on Broadway and I was now a keynote speaker for IBM. A highlight for me came when I was speaking to an audience of around two hundred people at IBM and I was able to acknowledge Althea for her contributions to me as she sat in the audience.

Coming to New York in 1966 triggered a major learning phase of my life. I learned about living in a new country where people saw me as different and undesirable. I learn to run from racist young men as they chase me in their cars. I learned that the police saw me as someone who would hold up cab drivers.  I discovered how difficult it was to live with a mother who had not seen me since the early fifties.  It was so strange to have a mother. She showered me with fourteen years of pent-up love from the moment she set eyes on me.  Ahhh.  It was awful.  I could not stand the attention.  For my entire life, I was invisible and suddenly I was the center of someone's attention. Plus, I was as skinny as a rail and she was determined to fatten me up. However, despite our awkward relationship, I could see that my mother loved me and was determined to give me every opportunity to realize my dreams which were to be the first in my family to graduate from a university and pursue a professional career.

I continued to learn how to survive in the Big Apple as I worked as an elevator operator and saved money to pay for my first year of college. It took me three years to save enough money to pay for that first year. It was clear that I had to get a scholarship because  I could not earn enough money while I went to school to pay for my second year. So, I played on the Junior Varsity, worked a full-time job and studied on the subway as I traveled from home to school, school to work and back to home. I had no choice;  I had to find a way fund to continue to pursue my aspiration. I did. I won an academic scholarship at the end of my first year which was renewed every year until I graduated in 1972. In fact, I won the Senior of the Year Award from the university and was offered a fellowship to earn a Ph D. in mathematics.

After graduate school, it was time to work. My first professional job was as a math teacher at Rockland Country Day School (RCDS) in Congers, New York.  My four years at RCDS was a wonderful experience where I met some extraordinary people with Cipe Burtin on the top of the list. Cipe, a famous Art Director and faculty at Parsons School of Design became a surrogate mother and a life coach to me. I lived in her beautiful home in Stony Point for at least ten years. where she taught me everything from cooking to art and gave me a chance to travel the world, I would go off for a month each year to see a part of the world that I never saw before. Those ten years were some of the best years of my life. After RCDS, I work at IBM for twenty-five years. I started at IBM as a programmer and left as a manager and professional speaker.  These were busy and exciting years: full of learning, teaching, and travel. For the last twelve years, I was a faculty member at the University of Phoenix where I had the privilege to educate working adults. 

I got married for the second time in 1985 and this marriage lasted twenty-six years longer than my first four year marriage. I married a beautiful artist from Little Rock, Arkansas who turned out to be a wonderful mother to our three children, Madison, Justin and Jo Elizabeth.  We moved from Nyack, New York to Whittier, California when Madison, our first child was one year old. We bought a home and raised our three children there for the next twenty-five years. Getting my children successful from kindergarten to college was a major accomplishment for our family. After our children left our nest; Madison as a rap musician and DJ, Justin as a start-up entrepreneur and Jo as a dancer and teacher; we decided that it was time for us to pursue our separate dreams. We are still friends today even if we don't see each other very often.

Enjoying the summer near Albany, New York where I live these days.

What did I learn over the past seventy years?  First, I learned that I am a very fortunate man. My life could have evolved in very less fortunate ways. It took the love of Joyce McLean, Althea Young, and Cipe Burtin to get me to where I am today.  I will always be grateful. I learned a lot about what I enjoy and how I want to live the rest. of my life.  I love to travel and I am hoping to spend a year traveling the world before I die.  I love to learn and I enjoy helping others learn. I became a teacher by accident but it seems like teaching was always my calling. Teaching has afforded me a life where I am able to spend time with young bright people who have helped me to stay young and relevant. I feel a strong drive to make a contribution to others. And in a small way, I have. I think that the twelve years I spent building the Reggae Boyz soccer teams in Whittier, California was one of the most significant contribution of my life.   I will tell you more about the Whittier Reggae Boyz later but one memory that sticks with me is the phone call from Mario, my starting midfielder, who called to thank me for all the fun we had together as he drove to San Francisco for his first year of college. I tear up whenever I think of Mario, Shane, Michael, Eddie, Omar, Josh, Logan, Joseph, Wilmar and their families.  These are just a few of the Reggae Boyz who have brought joy to my life and gave me the opportunity to help shape theirs.