One friend, upon hearing me describe a new ache or an old pain, used to say to me, “You’ve never been (insert age here) before!”
At first, I found this insulting, then, later, quite 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 it is incredibly banal. It’s all of the above: We are all growing older. I’ve never been 47 before. So there it is. That’s where I live.
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 December 27, 2015, I have been here for 17,206 days, which is also more than 412,000 hours and approximately 371,642,895 inhales and exhales, and 1,783,885,896 heart beats since I was born on November 18, 1968.
There are probably more inhales than exhales because I remember holding my breath to get what I wanted when I was little.
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 17,000 days waiting for a pay check, anticipating the return of a graded term paper, or avoiding the phone. I rarely lived in today. I still find myself not living in today. Today can be a scary place, after all. Today is where today’s frustrations and pains reside, and I am writing, so I want to be a part of someone else’s today, which might be tomorrow. For too much of the time I would rather be in your tomorrow than my own today.
I am 47 and plus, 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!” like a young girl.) 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. I missed today’s. Or more: Have I even been awake to view 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-seven is a complicated age, but 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. As banal as, “You’ve never been (insert age here) before!” Thus, not banal at all.
Life can be amazing when one starts paying attention.
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This is an edited version of a column that has appeared several times.
The WordPress Daily Prompt for December 27 asks, “What are your thoughts on aging? How will you stay young at heart as you get older?”
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