The Power of Growing Older: An excerpt from the memoir Daylight Saving Time
By David W. Berner
When I was a young man, I thought growing older was what other people did. “Hope I die before I get old,” was the anthem of my teenage years, the lyrics from the band that, at the time, seemed it would never age. Not The Who. And certainly not me.

But then, you do exactly that. You grow older.

We all age, beginning the process the day we are born. Then years later, the first gray hair arrives, a knee buckles, you buy a pair of reading glasses, you forget where you put those car keys. 

It’s a powerful thing, growing old. It piques your interest. And so, I decided to embark on a journey to help me see aging differently, more as a gift than as a hooded ghost with a sickle. During the period when most of us shift from Standard Time to Daylight Saving, a wonderous time of the year for preserving illumination, I decided to work on finding a way to embrace age, to find moments to celebrate the ticking clock.

Below is an excerpt from my memoir Daylight Saving Time: The Power of Growing Older (Collective Ink Books). It is due out in July 2024, in the season when the day’s light holds on the longest, a good time to applaud being alive.

Daylight Saving Time by David W. Berner

4:10 a.m. I am rested. Not sleepy. Still, it is far too early for much of anything. I remain under a single sheet, trying to find the coolest part of the pillow to rest my head and to maneuver with ease so as to not disturb my wife. I had awakened earlier to use the bathroom, found the house too warm, and adjusted the thermostat. Too cold for her, I’m sure. I sleep better in the chill; she may not.

Staring into the dark, my head is jumbled with random, fleeting thoughts.

The day before at the college, one of my students had asked my advice about her remaining classes, what to choose as she approached graduation, the class she wanted to take or the easier one.

“The Beat Literature class or yoga?”

I weighed out the options.

“With other rigorous senior classes, easy might be better,” I suggested. “Plus, you’re the kind of person who will end up reading those books even if you don’t take the class.”

In my undergrad days, the Beats were unknown to me, and yoga was a foreign concept from a faraway land. Home was a steel town of deer hunters and football players. Adventure and the idea of enlightenment only came my way in time, the kind of enlightenment I didn’t know I needed. I wonder now: Have I lived the life I have wanted to live? Am I living it now? And how in heaven did I get here? I think of New Mexico, and of the house in my neighborhood I had noticed the evening before that had been fully decorated for Christmas, nearly two months before the holiday, bright red and white lights illuminating a giant tree, outlining the house, and the front door. No sign of Jesus, though Halloween pumpkins decayed on the front porch. Why are we in a hurry? I think of my birthday, two weeks away. The other day I noticed how fatigue comes easier, not a physical tiredness or out-of-breath weariness, but the heaviness of some ancient timepiece. My father died in his seventies. So did my mother. My sister succumbed to alcohol in her fifties. My aunt, my mother’s younger sister, is in her eighties. Does she still smoke? I should call my aunt.

With my mind still flittering, I slip from the covers, step out of bed, and pet the sleeping dog at my feet. At the kitchen counter, I write in my notebook—about the student, about my aunt, New Mexico, about my age. There was a need to look up the day’s horoscope on my phone. Not something I often do, but do it anyway. The personality trait on one website suggests vindictiveness and a lack of self-confidence. No doubt I’ve been there. Not proud when those elements of my humanity appear in broad daylight. Another site says I can be emotional, creative. I’ll take that. Also listed are the famous who share my birthdate. Voltaire was born on November 21, 1694. He was imprisoned in the Bastille for his writings mocking French royalty; his most famous works were banned for his criticism of religion and the justice system. He never married, never had children, he had a famous love of coffee, and in his old age set up a successful watchmaking business. Catherine the Great and King Louis XV wore his watches. There’s a legend that Voltaire wore one of his own timepieces on his deathbed as leaders of the Catholic Church visited, hoping to persuade him to retract his condemnations and confess to his sins. Voltaire refused. He was denied a Christian burial. Certainly, as time ran out, right there on his own watch, Voltaire knew he had lived the life he had wanted to live.

I return to bed to find sleep again.

Two hours pass. I make coffee and smear avocado on grainy toast. At the kitchen counter, I scan emails and respond to in need of authorizations for spring semester classes, agree to a flyer for an event about memoir writing at Chicago’s Harold Washington Library that I have been asked to moderate, and remind my teaching colleagues to donate a few of their authored books to a student conference on campus. I text my son just to say hello and then take the stairs to the basement. With music playing from the speakers—Amos Lee, Bob Dylan, and Band of Horses—I do 25 squats and 20 pushups and pull on the exercise band 30 times in various positions. I have awakened and am breathing heavier. Afterward, I make more coffee and return to the kitchen counter. New Mexico. I search websites for casitas to rent come late spring, adobe homes in the high desert. My wife is awake now and comes to the dining table.

“I just want you to know. I’m searching for places.”

“I’m okay with that. Will there be rattlers?”

“They won’t hurt you if don’t provoke them.”

“Still. I want to know what to do.”

There are no such creatures in the prairie grasses outside Chicago.

“Temperatures should be in the 50s and 60s at that time of year,” I say.

“Do we fly into Albuquerque?”

“Yes. There’s one property in the mountains south of Santa Fe. I like it.”

Just as I say this, my train of thought is broken by music from the basement, a song on the playlist I had allowed to continue— The Beatles’ “In My Life.”

“You know I want this at my memorial when I’m dead, right?”

“I’ve lost track,” my wife says. “You keep adding and then changing. You need to write this down.”

“This and The Velvet Underground,” I half-joke.

“Let’s have a death weekend. We can document all the wishes. Who’s being cremated? Big or small memorials, or not? What songs?”

“Death weekend?”

“Yep, Death Weekend.”

I stand to refill my coffee, feeling secure in the knowledge that whatever is decided on Death Weekend won’t be needed or executed anytime soon. Then, I make a mental note to revisit an old favorite, Allen Ginsberg’s last poetry book, Wait Till I’m Dead, and promise myself again to call my aunt.


Author Bio:

David W. Berner is the author of several award-winning books of fiction and memoir. He is a veteran radio news journalist in Chicago and writes personal essays for the Medium site The Abundance.  


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