Sunday, December 24, 2006

The upside of aging
Dec. 22, 2006

There’s no avoiding the gravitus of a birthday ending in zero. I’ve just marked a big one, 50, but they’ve all been notable in their own way.
When I turned 20, I felt the weight of no longer being a kid anymore. Like it or not, life was underway. At 30 - the only really tough one for me - I had to give up on a dearly held belief that I’d have everything sorted out by the time I was 30.
Then came 40, and I was OK with it. I’d won and lost on a number of big life fronts by then, but was ultimately happy with where the fates had carried me. Ten years on, the feeling of personal peace is that much stronger, and I find myself grateful for the gifts of aging.
I’ve been a restless soul for most of my life, always knowing I was looking for something but never too sure what it was. But somewhere in the last decade, I think I must have found it.
It didn’t arrive with fury and splendour, and was more like a gradual unfolding. People’s opinions of me no longer mattered as much. I gave up wanting to be the belle of the ball. I settled down. Something like contentment occasionally settled over me.
A psychology type like Maslow would no doubt say that I was finally getting my needs met. Sure, but first you have to stick it out long enough just to be able to identify them. For the longest time, my needs rattled around namelessly inside me, wreaking havoc with the various life plans I tested over the years.
To let go of all that unfocused striving and yearning has been the wonder of aging. Nothing wrong with a little striving and yearning, of course, but nothing wrong with being done with it, either.
I suppose it’s about being on the other side of all of life’s big milestones. Marriage. Children. Careers. Houses. Great loves. You spend your first 40 years trying to make all of that happen, and it isn’t until 50 that you finally get the opportunity to just enjoy what you have.
Time also assumes greater meaning as you age, as it ought to when you consider how each day that passes accounts for a larger percentage of the life you have left to live. Two days lost to unpleasantness at age 20 is a much more significant loss at age 50, when every day counts that much more.
Perhaps that’s the most important lesson of aging: That life slips away faster and faster. I find myself grabbing the days with calculated enthusiasm. I’ve miles to go before I sleep, as the saying goes, and a single wasted hour now seems a shame.
I’ve even worked out the number of weekends I can expect to enjoy if I’m lucky enough to live to 75 or 80. Once, when I narrowed the category to “summer weekends,” I was devastated by how few remained. It wasn’t a pleasant exercise, but it certainly got my attention. No weekend slips by me unawares anymore.
Because I’m no longer consumed with the chase like I was in my younger years, I have more energy for new interests. In recent months, it’s been kayaking and Taiko drumming, even a few pole-dancing classes. The self-consciousness that would have stopped me in my tracks as a younger woman has been vanquished by the passing years. And how truly wonderful to have it gone.
Lately, I’ve developed a near-obsessive interest in birds, something my youngest daughter says seems to be a trend among people my age. If that’s true, perhaps it stems from a need to revel in what’s good about the world, right there outside our windows.
I watch my own adult children struggling, and find myself advising them to hang in there until things can get better in their 40s. The worst of it is that you’re convinced for all those years that it’s only you that can’t figure things out. It must be far more intense for today’s young adults than it was when I was younger, what with ever-rising expectations on each coming generation to run faster, jump higher, try harder and earn a lot more money.
I can’t say that I ever relished the thought of turning 50 during the years of rushing forward into my future. But now that it’s here, I see that it comes in peace. The loss of tight jawline and taut midriff aside, I can tell that 50 wants the best for me.
This past weekend, with the December sun slanting across the waters of Portage Inlet, I kayaked in great happiness past rafts of wintering ducks, snatching up my damp binoculars at regular intervals to categorize the distant specks into bufflehead, golden eye, hooded merganser. An unfamiliar feeling took hold: Serenity.
Peace in my time. If that’s what it means to grow old, bring it on.

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