by Mikael Wagner
As a young man full of life and energy in 1982, I was forced to give up my dreams and ambitions, because of a new disease that swept the country. At that time, physicians told me that as a gay man my chances of surviving were slim to none and to start making plans and peace with family members. As I looked around, not wanting the fun and parties that I had drawn me to San Francisco to end, I feared that the rumors were true. One by one, two by two, and then 20 by 20, I started to lose my best friends, colleagues, lovers and those that we called “Gay Moms. Being young and rather naïve, I was at a loss and turned to my mother. Normally, she was the last person in the world that I would turn to for help, but she actually surprised me. She explained to me that we now had a lot in common with each other. Then, the light bulb started to glow brighter with her next words. In the sweetest voice she said, “All of your friends are dying and so are mine. So, let’s figure out this together and how we will survive.” At that time, my mom was the age I am today and full of life and encouragement for me.
Thirty years later, I am still here using the skills that I learned from so many wonderful people to help others to survive. Life has taught me that aging does not mean getting old and feeling depressed. Aging means using all of your insightful experience that has been acquired along the way and transforming your life into a magical experience to reach new goals or to expand your life. Reimagining life is making what could be into what is.
The most challenging part of aging for me is living in the present and embracing the moment. It’s not easy. I often drift off and think about all the stuff I should have done yesterday or how am I going to take care of something that seems urgent tomorrow, instead of listening and enjoying what is happening today. There are still days when I feel sad and miss my friends who have moved or transitioned so many years ago. I try to place myself into the old man box, but my happy spirit just will not allow me to do it. With the inclusion of younger friends and colleagues in my life, the one thing they have taught me to do is to be present, not in the past and not in the future. Believe me it works.
Now when I pass a mirror and look at the person looking back at me, I am flattered instead of thinking, ugh, who is that old man trying to flirt with me. Today, I look into the mirror and smile, thinking about all the good times that old man has had and all the adventures that lie ahead for him. Remember the movie, Catch Me If You Can? That is how I feel today.
As a boomer, I am working as hard as I ever did 30 years ago, but the difference is what I share with others. One of my gifts to those who are 50+ or actually any age is helping them to re-imagine life and ways to get unstuck and remember to have fun while creating a new life. It’s enjoyable to accept people where they are in life and assist them in pushing past the boundaries to revisit their dreams. Dreams can include a great vacation, starting a dream business, getting healthy and being physically fit, dating again, taking a class or just doing something that you have always wanted to do but were always told that you were never good enough to do.
I never thought I would say it, but getting older has helped me to spread my wings, expand my mind, and push beyond the barriers that I created to protect or imprison myself. I am wise enough to know that all sorts of negativity exists in society against those in the LGBT community, against communities of color and against older people in the workforce, but I refuse to be put down because of any of those negative thoughts. The best part about being present and in the moment is to never stop pushing until your goal has been reached.
After living through some amazing times, isn’t it time to expand our horizon and celebrate life with vigor and pride? To quote the late Maya Angelou, my goal is “To be the rainbow in someone else’s cloud.”
Mikael Wagner, a strategic communications practitioner, is principal and managing director of Promotions West, public relations and health promotions firm based in San Francisco. He is also a CA Volunteer Leader with AARP.