In the Know ; Opinion
I’m back at work: ‘How dull it is to pause’
On Not Growing Old By Bill Moyers
Inever thought much about growing old. Most of us in journalism are too obsessed with the here and now to think about the past or future tense of our lives. Growing old happened only at the end of
the trip, like arriving at the depot after a long train ride.
At 60, I had open heart surgery. Four months later I was reporting in
the field again.
I turned 65 and kept working.
I retired on my 70th birthday and came back to work a
year later. I retired again on the eve of my 76th birthday,
and a year later was back at work.
In each case “work” is a weekly television series
with implacable deadlines, constant reading, relentless preparation, intense sessions in the studio and long
hours in editing rooms. Once you finish one broadcast,
you begin crafting the next. Television is insatiable.
There’s creative tension in the perpetual tug of a looming deadline.
talking to some of the wisest and sanest people around: philosophers,
physicists, novelists, activists, historians, poets, neuroscientists, biologists,
teachers, scholars of every stripe. And I’ve had the chance to ask some of
them the most important questions in the world: Why is there something
instead of nothing? What do we mean by a moral life? What’s the source
of hate? Can we learn to be creative?
It is impossible to listen to such people without realizing in one’s own consciousness a stirring of fresh life. Every one of them taught me
Cronkite’s advice: ‘Keep going’
My wife, Judith, a journalist in her own right and my
creative partner in all our productions, says we have
no retirement skills. Maybe in three years, on our
60th anniversary, we’ll try to learn some. On the
other hand, I’m not so sure. Retirement, I’ve heard,
can be the enemy of longevity.
Walter Cronkite retired at 65. He later told me it had
been a serious mistake. “I’ve missed it every minute,”
he said. And then he added: “Keep going!”
Like Walter, I love the work. Especially the teamwork.
Genes help. My father almost made it to 90. My
mother did—plus two. Her mother—my grandmother—almost became the first centenarian in the family.
But I’m confident it’s the nature of the work that
keeps me getting up every day. I’ve been at it a long
time now—since I was a cub reporter at age 16 on my
hometown newspaper. I worked my way through the
University of Texas as a reporter for the local television
station. We were the first station in the state to buy a
station wagon, paint it red and christen it—what else?—
Red Rover. I wheeled around town in style, broadcasting from crime scenes and accidents and the state legislature, which some people said was the biggest crime
scene in town.
My path led me on to graduate school, to government
service for seven years and then back to journalism, which
became a continuing course in adult education—my own.
Most important, journalism provided me a passport into
the world of ideas, which became my favorite beat.
I’ve enjoyed the occasionally intimidating privilege of
I’m learning a whole new medium
So I’ve had a wonderful life in this work, and
even on its most exhausting days, journalism
keeps my curiosity on
its toes. I’m also learn-
ing a whole new me-
dium from the young
people who created
and are running our
.com. When I started
as a journalist, my sto-
ries were transformed
into print on an an-
cient linotype machine in the noisy and smelly
back shop of the newspaper; who would have
thought that 60 years later I would be sending
them on video into the far reaches of cyberspace?
Moyers & Company—our present series—will
end shortly before my 80th birthday. Then
what? We’ll see. Maybe we’ll get to the one
series Judith and I keep talking about but have
never gotten around to producing: a series
on aging. We’re fascinated by what science
and experience are discovering about how to
maintain high mental and physical ability as
we grow older; how to reduce the risk of disease and disability; why attitude matters; and
the importance of wonder, surprise and joy.
Meanwhile, I will keep taped to this very
computer the words of Tennyson’s great poem
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life! ;
again on the
eve of my
and a year
back at work
Bill Moyers hosts the weekly PBS show
Moyers & Company and his website, billmoyers.com.