At age 54, I could call myself middle-aged, except I can’t reasonably expect to live to age 110. So does that mean I’m old? It can?t be true!
I do find that I?m in an interesting state of mind. I no longer focus on the future, the way I did for most of my life. I don’t mean that I don’t look forward to things; it?s just that the future is no longer an unwritten book. It’s more of an unfinished book, with the beginning and middle already in place. Before, life was always about tomorrow, when I’d be rich, famous, happy, speak fluent French and play the piano.
But I’ve recently realized that the future doesn’t look as rosy as it once did, since it will inevitably bring with it sickness, loss and death.
I haven’t yet reached the nostalgic stage, the place where the people I used to think of as old always seemed to dwell. They would transform the past into stories, rounding off the harsh edges, bringing out the humor in every situation. Many of these tales were about people who were no longer around to set the record straight.
I find I can’t round off those jagged edges yet; the past is still too near. My memory for names may not be what it used to be, but I still resent the wrongs that were done. I’m not yet ready to let go of the past and laugh.
I remember the scorn heaped upon us after writing Communion. We were attacked by New York sophisticates, small town reporters, TV hosts and book reviewers, and even by the UFO community, the one place you’d have thought we would have found refuge.
I can’t look forward and don’t want to look back, so there’s no place to be but the present, which has become a place of rapid change. The first signs of aging are a tragedy, but they soon become routine. Salt-and-pepper hair becomes gray, then turns white. The hands become unrecognizable as veins rise up and age spots appear. The body morphs into a new shape and can no longer be coaxed back. When someone praises my looks, they sound like they?re talking to a child. I figure they mean I’m clean and not too rumpled.
I no longer recognize the people on magazine covers, even though they are famous musicians or movie stars.
I’m becoming a ghost in my own life: I seem to be invisible in crowds, to the point where I’ve been slammed into, pushed aside and stepped on. Either that, or I get the elaborate courtesy of having the door held and my chair pulled back, which I hate even more.
I don’t know if my experience is a common one, but I’ve found that losing some estrogen over the years has been a revelation. I’m more edgy, less inclined to compromise. Colors seem brighter; I see things more clearly. Maybe this is the world that men always live in.
I was looking through the local paper the other day, and noticed that some enterprising advertising executive had grouped some ads together, all aimed at those of us who’ve reached “a certain age,” under the heading of “Mature Moments.” Arranged against a Christmas green background were ads for hearing aids, depression medication, osteoporosis supplements, a depression study, blood pressure medication, asthma inhalers and to top it all off, a hospice!
I now understand why those old folks used to retell the same old stories and laugh. In the face of all that, what the heck else can you do?
After fifty-plus years, I have learned something about laughter: beware when it isn’t there. Everyone can find something to laugh at, but beware of people who don’t laugh about what concerns them most: a lawyer who doesn’t laugh about the law, a preacher who doesn’t laugh about religion, a doctor who doesn’t tell funny stories about medicine, a UFO investigator who doesn’t chuckle about what he does. Don’t just avoid these people, RUN from them!
Because no matter how old they are, they haven’t learned a damn thing.
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