I remember very well thinking that people in their fifties were “old.” When I was in my thirties I rather dreaded reaching that point. My life had a future ahead of it, and so much of my psychic energy was spent dreaming about, planning for or being anxious about the future. What would life be like if I didn’t have that future to focus upon?
Oh how silly I was. I should have spent that time really embracing the present, experiencing “now” as it happened – because that’s all we have. Now that I’m in my fifties I actually find myself very comfortable getting old – it really isn’t a bad thing!
First, perspective. I’m excited about life – what I’m doing, the choices I’m making and where I’m going. That involves thinking of the future to some extent – planning research, trips, etc. But for the most part I’ve learned that when one is focused on NOW age is not a problem. Now is full of opportunity and excitement. There are always new things to learn, changes one can make to explore life in different ways.
Second, experience. I remember the Cold War! I remember Watergate and the final years of Vietnam! I was in Berlin in the summer of ’89, experiencing the last weeks of normalcy before the world changed and the wall came down. I toured the eastern German states in the nineties, talking to people who were going through an historic transition. I talked with elderly German women in the 80s about the Third Reich and their experiences.
I cheered the Twins World Series victory in 1987! I learned e-mail when it was year, and got on the internet back before it had images because they took too long to download (especially on dialup). In fact, I’ve experienced the information revolution from my excitement at getting color TV when I was 8, cable TV at 14, and then being amazed by my college roommate’s personal computer – a Radio Shack Tandy, one of the first made!
I would not want to not have those experiences. I would not trade them for youth. Moreover, my life has put me in a position where I have unique opportunities and a job I love. I get to now enjoy that, explore my options, and live I life I can honestly say I love. Sure, I’m divorced, things have gone wrong – but I learned from them and I’m still on really good terms with the people who have been important in my life. And if I ever have another serious relationship, I’ll bring those lessons into making it the best it can be.
Not that aging is all good. I’ve come to grips with the fact that my body gets sore more easily and I have aches and pains that probably will never go away. The face looking back at me in the mirror isn’t the youthful face I feel like I have when there are no mirrors around. I hurt my knee last year, which kept me sedentary, and now I’m finding it frustrating that I can’t go run and jump like I used to. But I have the now! So I’m going to the gym every day (it’s just two blocks away) and I have the opportunity to get in good shape for my age. I embrace that!
To be sure, teaching at a university means that I’m surrounded by youth. I get a sense of cultural trends, have to keep up with technological change, and that definitely keeps my mind fresh and open to new things. And it has been exciting! I get how people my age feel like the country has become something different than it was – a strange place with everything from gay marriage to transgender bathroom rights! But being with youth I’ve experienced and embraced these changes as part of our continued cultural development – I’m not stuck in the 80s!
I also have two children still in school – that helps keep my perspective fresh, seeing the reality they’re dealing with.
So overall – aging isn’t bad! The formula is simple: stay in shape, keep up with society, and embrace the now. The experiences and memories from the past are priceless, and have created who I am and the conditions in which I find myself. The future still holds promise, and in any event we’re all occupying the present. Now lasts forever!