For what used to be most of my life, I didn’t know what it was like to be anything but young. And I couldn’t imagine my life much in the future, in that strange world of adulthood, past the child’s door. What seemed “old” was constantly moving away from me: big kids in high school, college kids, people over 30, over-the-hill-ers at forty, gray grandparent fifty, final demographic over 65 and so on. As my dad would tell me, once he moved to a retirement community, they had the Young Old, the Middle Old and the Old Old—and oh, to be seventy again! By now I have blown past all the futures of song and story—when I first heard “it was a very good year”, I wasn’t even seventeen, and now I am well past the autumn of the year” reviewing the fine old dregs in the cask.
My mother sometimes asked when she started looking old. I notice I look a lot more like her every day.
I do remember thinking that thirty-five was just about perfect—old enough to do anything, but young enough to do anything. It was a time before I worried that tipping off how old I really was (watch for too many dates on resumes) would prevent me from being considered for a position. Moving to another country and “starting over” professionally at age 54 was pretty rejuvenating though, considering that no one knew the first thing about me really. So I got to start again from scratch, knowing then so much more than when I started the first time.
Of course I knew, as we all do at least in theory and in my case from working in the medical field, that there is no guarantee of a tomorrow for anyone (or humans as a species)–which didn’t make it any easier to plan for an uncertain future. But there was always the possibility of more time ahead than behind and, playing the odds, here I still am. At some point, the math is inexorable though and if you start counting up, or down, the years, there is no conceivable way that ahead years would, could, or should outnumber the behind ones. Litanies of ailments, friends who have died, memorial services of peers have become standard. Attitude adjustment.
The bright side of aging is that the burden of striving to get an education, find a job, find a partner, have a life has largely gone by. It is what it is. No more standardized tests (okay, the driver’s test maybe). The fact is, none of us will ever be younger than today, and we can still focus on whatever matters, using what skills and understanding and resources we may have until we get really old, whatever that turns out to be. Every year it becomes clearer that the important part is to do what you do with love as long as you live.
Lovely Khati, and as I’ve learned after 65 there are still wonderful new friendships to forge!
Isn’t that the best? My dad found love and friendship in his late eighties after my mother died, a delight for all involved and not expected. And I certainly have enjoyed meeting the wonderful Retrospect people including you Dana!
Yes Khati, looking forward to seeing you again in the not too distant future, maybe for a whirlwind New York visit!
That would be lovely, though I wish I could foresee the whirlwind that can take me there. Maybe next year…
Your narrative could be an excellent introduction to the writings of Morrie Schwartz on the same subject. See his “The Wisdom of Living and Ageing.” You summarize his graceful acceptance of the process of ageing in just a few paragraphs. Thanks.
Thanks—I haven’t read his writing but will take this as a compliment. Grace and wisdom can both be pretty elusive.
This is very inspiring and totally true, Khati. I remember when I agreed to “never trust anyone over 30.” And I discovered that “Life begins at 40,” as that is when I embarked on a new career. Now I have kids who remind me they are middle-aged, and therefore not in need of my advice. I agree, but sharing my wisdom is something else.
Of course your children will want to share their wisdom (much of it gleaned from you) with THEIR children, and one of the things they will realize is that they wished they had listened more. Gently offer and good you are writing it down.
“The important part is to do what you do with love as long as you live.” Great advice and great way to live, Khati. We should all live like that and have no fear about what’s to come.
That lesson is one driven home over the past couple of years by my good friend who recently died after a long cancer odyssey. He was an inspiration and I thank him for his life lessons. Of course aspiring to that and truly living it is our forever challenge.
Khati, I love everything about this story – your A.A. Milne-esque title, your featured image with your parents, and your wonderful turns of phrase. I particularly liked “there was always the possibility of more time ahead than behind” . . . “but at some point the math is inexorable.” Even if we lived to 120, like Moses, we are more than halfway there. Shocking! Thanks for another beautifully written story!
I like your math example with Moses—-distressing though it may be. You could also substitute Jeanne C of France who lived to 123, but the point doesn’t change. I figured the A. A. Milne reference might resonate—but leave it to you decide if the follow through (“…and as clever as clever, so I think I’ll stay six(-ty) forever and ever”) also works. Maybe it is finally time to just pick an age and stick with it.
I enjoyed reading your thoughts on how aging is working for you, Khati. I agree about 35 being just about the perfect age (of at least the pre-60 era), although you’re right about the perks of the post-60 years, too!
Yes, don’t have much of a choice about revisiting 35, but actually my life now turned out better than I thought it would at age 35. Let us appreciate all we can.
Khaki, thanks for your wise advice. I needed this story today more than ever. Yes, I think most of us are 30+ on the other side, the ideal age. Yet totally agree with you about all the added benefits that come with age. I like the feel of the long morning cup of coffee, dreamily sitting in a flower garden, inhaling its fragrance with my meditation. When I hear the horrendous sounds of motor vehicles, I’m so relieved I’m not included in the morning rush hour. If we dodge the reaper, perhaps we can gracefully exit here.
Your description of a languorous morning of coffee and flowers is indeed appealing. I had to develop a New Year’s resolution to get out of bed (coffee and paper…) by 10 am just to get to the rest of my day, it is so pleasant to linger. This has got to be one of the best parts about aging when you can make it happen.
I love that you have found equanimity over anxiety. The best thing I have let go over the years is giving a damn if other people don’t like me. I cherish those who do, but as for the rest? Lots of Jersey terms for those!
Some things do get better with age, including learning how not to give a damn (when it makes sense) and to spend your energy elsewhere.