Friday, March 13, 2015

Reflections on (Gulp!) Middle Age

I remember clearly being in the last years of elementary school before the kids "graduated" on to the junior high/high school in our town. Every once in a while on of the sixth graders from the year before would come back for a visit and would wow us with stories of having a locker and switching classes. I would look at them in awe and reverence, even though these kids were just a year or two older than I. Wow. Lockers. And then I'd feel secretly scared of the unknown, wondering how I would handle something so new and different.

Then I'd get to the age of switching classes and teachers and after a few days it would be no big deal, and I'd be looking to people getting their driver's licenses and feeling secretly nervous and full of wonderment about ever making it to that age.

A few months ago, I turned 40, and I'm not going to lie: lately I've been looking at people's Facebook photos, at all of us Gen-Xers who graduated high school in the eighties and nineties, and I think, "Who are all of these middle-aged people?" Only I know my photos look the same. And then I remind myself again, "That's right. You ARE middle-aged now."

And then I sink into a depression for a few minutes, because, well, that does kind of stink. I look back and think, "THAT was 40 years?" Or 35 or so, that I can remember. Then I wonder what I really did with it all. And I think about what I could do differently so as to not waste the rest. Like not playing so much Trivia Crack. Or holding on to resentment and unforgiveness or being afraid to do the things I really long to do.

But I digress. As I've looked at these pictures of all of us sprouting gray hair and crows' eyes, and swallowed and acknowledged yes, in 10 years I'll be 50, I've realized a few things. A disclaimer here: most of them are so completely obvious that they probably aren't an epiphany to anyone else. What can I say? I'm blonde. Or I just wasn't thinking before. Somehow, until very recently, I hadn't really understood the following about aging:

1. Everyone you know ages with you. Yeah, I know. Duh. But I'm serious. Your group, your family, your friends you've always had, your cousins, the people you hung out with in the neighborhood, whatever...they're aging with you. It's not like you look in the mirror yet everyone else is frozen in time. It's not like you feel so old while everyone else is still young. No. Your whole group, your generation, your clique, whatever, is doing this thing, too. This gives me a sense of "we're all in this together." We can commiserate or share wisdom we've learned. I don't know why, but for most of my life I imagined growing older all by myself.

2. The older you get, the older "old" is. I clearly remember writing in a journal in 9th grade English that 40 was old. I have to smile at how that number has slowly edged up over the years. I'm pretty sure when I'm 70 old will be 90 or 100. Of course, on the flip side what I considered "young" has grown older as well. These days I feel as if 20-year-olds are practically "kids." Yet I felt so old when I was 20, so mature!

3. Like those kids back when I was in elementary school, there will always be people just a little bit ahead of you. Learning from them, hearing about their experiences, makes the new things coming a little less scary. For some reason I always thought I'd be doing new things almost in a vacuum. I'd be the only one filling out college applications or getting married or having a baby. That's what made the whole thing so daunting. But over the years I've been so grateful for those on the journey just ahead of me who help give me a glimpse, answer questions, and prepare me for what's to come.

4. Lastly, I'm starting to think, I'm beginning to embrace, that your body can do one thing, while inside you never feel "old." There are days I wonder how I can possibly be "grown up" when I feel I have so much to learn or still feel so much like a kid inside. I'm guessing you can be 80 and yet have days when internally you are a 17-year-old or just turning 30. There are days you can still hurt like a child. There are days maybe you wish to play like a child. The older I grow, the more I accept old people as people, not just "old." This is horrible to say, but I think I used to see the hunched-over person who was maybe forgetful or not completely coherent, and slow, and somehow forget there was still a person in there.

There is still a person who loved and played and ran and teased and got into trouble. There is still a person who thinks and cares and hurts and maybe sometimes feels like a much younger version of themself and is frustrated by a body and mind that don't always cooperate.

Now that I'm middle-aged, I better understand that my body may indeed age, but I will retain that inner part of me who will always be me, the true me, the eternal, essential part.

They may have circles under them, but I'm glad my eyes have been opened.

No comments: