One friend, upon hearing me describe a new ache or an old pain, used to reply, “You’ve never been (insert age here) before!”
At first, I found this insulting, then, later, very insulting. But knowing the friend as I did, I eventually realized that he was not being dismissive when he said this, but was instead reminding me to do something I did not have a long history of doing: To pay attention to my body. He has since passed on and will remain forever 65.
He was saying that almost everything we experience is unique to us, yet not at all unique. That sentence is either wise in its simpleness, so simple and wise that “simpleness” is too complicated a word for it, or incredibly banal. All of the above: We are all growing older. I’ve never been 46 before. So it is.
(W.H. Auden is said to have told friends that he wanted his last words to be, “This is something that has never happened to me before.” He died alone, sadly, so his last words were not recorded.)
Age is a statistic, and mine are these (for your own numbers, feel free to play with the age calculator that I linked to): As of September 1, 2015, I have been here for 17,089 days, which is also more than 410,000 hours and approximately 369,114,390 breaths, and 1,771,749,072 heart beats since I was born on November 18, 1968.
Have I made each one of these days, breaths, and heartbeats count? Have I lived “each day as if it was my last?” You bet I haven’t. (Shakes head vigorously.) Of course the heck not. I spent at least 12,000 of these days either waiting for payday, the return of a graded term paper, or avoiding the phone. I also do not dance like no one is looking, I do not sing in the shower, and my mattresses always have those tags on them.
I am 46 (and a half), which is somewhere in the middle of the middle. (I knew a woman in her 90s who used to tell people, “I am 93-and-a-half!”) Either I have already seen more sunrises than I have yet to see in this life, or I have not even seen half of the sunrises yet to come in this life. (I get up late, anyway, and I have missed at least 16,000 of those sunrises. Or more: Have I been awake for a thousand sunrises in person?)
I still possess a lot of my boyish lack of charm and wisdom, yet I am adding middle-aged foolishness to it. Forty-six is a complicated age. They all are.
It is also an age that is not given much positive attention in art, music, or literature. Not just 46 specifically, but mid-40s. In movies or song, a character in his or her mid-40s is often tragic, a figure who is in need of change and perhaps pursues it but is incapable of making a change, which is where the tragedy lies. Or he—and it is usually a he in this case—is in a mid-life crisis (in need of a change), and his pursuit of a solution is comic, impotent, or merely silly, and he learns his lesson and returns to his old ways. An adventure in rediscovering the magic of complacency. Karl Marx wrote, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” In art, a 20-year-old character’s life is romantic and passionate; the life of a 45-year-old with the same emotions of romance and passion: farce.
It is the Age of Assessing Things, which would have sounded as boring and banal to my 25-year-old ears as it surely must to any 25-year-old’s ears. (This also sounds like the ad for a certain special pill marketed for men my age, um, stature in the community.)
(Not that there is not passion in my life; there is, and love now seems to count for more and feel more enduring than any love I have yet experienced. Life is amazing when one starts paying attention.)
Element 46 is palladium, which is very rare—part of the platinum group of elements—and very expensive, but even so we encounter it every day on our roads. It is used in catalytic converters, which of course are employed to convert the pollution our car engines create into a less toxic pollution. My view of the age 46 is influenced by this coincidence of element and age. Forty-six, for me, is the age at which a lot of the life I have lived so far is being converted into something more breathable.
That is not farce, nor is it tragedy, but my life is not literature.
What have I learned so far in this life, and how many of these things do I really need for the rest of the journey? Which of these things are worth keeping? A lot of them, as it turns out, but not all. This particular lesson is not often the theme of art, as I wrote above, but around when he was 45, Elvis Costello wrote “45,” in which he sings:
Here is a song to sing to do the measuring
What did you lose?
What did you gain?
What did you win?
* * * *
The above is a re-write of a post from over a year ago.
* * * *
Follow The Gad About Town on Facebook! Subscribe today for daily facts (well, trivia) about literature and history, plus links to other writers on Facebook.
The WordPress Daily Prompt for September 1 asks, “If you had to live forever as either a child, an adolescent, or an adult, which would you choose—and why?”
And please visit and participate in the Alterna-Prompt, “The Blog Propellant.”