The WordPress Daily Prompt for July 27 continues a recent preoccupation with age, aging, adulthood: “‘Age is just a number,’ says the well-worn adage. But is it a number you care about, or one you tend (or try) to ignore?”
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 was also saying that almost everything we experience is unique to us and 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. I’ll go with banal. We are all growing older.
Age is a statistic and mine are these (feel free to play with the age calculator for your own numbers): As of July 27, 2014, I have been here for 16,687 days, which is also more than 400,000 hours and approximately 360,461,595 breaths, and 1,730,215,656 heart beats since I was born. Have I made each one of these days, breaths, and heartbeats count? Have I lived “each day as if it was my last?” Of course not. I spent at least 12,000 of these days either waiting for payday or avoiding late fees and deadlines. I also do not dance like no one is looking and rarely think before I speak.
I am 45 (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, or I have not even seen half of them. (I get up late, anyway, and have missed at least 16,000 sunrises.) I still possess a lot of my boyish lack of wisdom and am adding middle-aged foolishness to it. It’s a complicated age.
It is also an age that is not given much positive attention in art, music, or literature. Not just 45 specifically, but mid-40s. 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 changing, 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. Karl Marx wrote, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” In art, a 20-year-old character’s life is romantic, passionate; the life of a 45-year-old with the same emotions: farce.
It is the Age of Assessing Things, which would have sounded as boring and banal to my 25-year-old ears as it must to any 25-year-old’s ears.
(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 45 is rhodium, which is very rare—part of the platinum group of elements—and very expensive and yet 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 less toxic pollution. My view of the age 45 is influenced by this coincidence of element and age. Forty-five, 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, 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?