I have officially reached middle age. I can no longer deny it, nor put it off any longer. The target which I have surreptitiously pushed forward ahead of me has hit a brick wall and will not move any further forward. “Here it is” it seems to say to me like the GPS in my car. “Your destination is just ahead. Navigation will end here. You have arrived at 45”. AARP is getting its first information pack ready to send out to me even though I am still quite a ways off from retirement age-they like to get you early I hear and once they’ve got you, they won’t let you go. I suppose I have been searching my entire life for that perfect age when everything came together, when I would be old enough to be taken seriously but not so old as to be ignored or dismissed as ancient history so many seem to do toward the elderly. Whatever age we find ourselves to be, we tend to think that the grass is greener at some other point in time, whether it is just ahead or, as is frequently the case, just behind us.
When I was a kid, I wanted time to hurry up. I wanted Christmas here sooner or a birthday to arrive quicker and would sometimes wish I could skip over whole months of the year to get to that point in time. When I was 14 I wanted to be 16 so I could drive; at 18, I wanted to be 21 so I could walk into a bar and order a drink; at 25 I thought 30 would be the magic number because that seemed to be the perfect age, still young but not seen as too young, a time of career advancement and making all the right moves. However, at 35, I wasn’t so sure anymore and I started looking over my shoulder from time to time, wondering if I had missed anything along the way, all the while thinking about what was ahead of me….that dreaded age that so many worry about: the big 4-0. During this this entire time, as I realized I was approaching something called middle age, I tried to decide in my own mind exactly what that age was.
You grow up hearing about it, this “middle-aged’ designation and all that goes along with it. You know it entails the beginning of a period where you must begin to tie up the loose ends from the past as you prepare for the years ahead, years that will eventually include retirement, some golden years and finally, old age. You also hear the stories about the “mid-life crisis”, that period when you just can’t accept that maturity is the standard by which you must live from this point onward. I used to think that 30 was middle aged when I was in high school but by the time I was 25 and 30 loomed a lot closer, I rationalized that it really must be 35 and I still had a long way to go. Another five years went by and another landmark birthday arrived. Since I saw no imminent signs of the beginning of decrepitude, I came to the realization that middle age really must begin at 40. When that age arrived, I knew I was really pushing it but I managed to persuade myself after much thought and reflection that middle age must truly begin at 45. Yesterday that day arrived and when that little voice in my head said “wanna go for 50?” the rational part of me just wouldn’t allow me to delude myself any longer. I had arrived at the door to middle age and I had no choice but to turn the knob and go on in….if I could only remember what I did with that key….
At this point, I don’t think I will look ahead to years that are in the future as being an age I want to be so much as looking at them as an age I want to live to see. There are things I still want to do and things I want to achieve but I am not going to wish time away to get me to those goals quicker. I no longer mind walking a more measured pace now and achieving things as time permits me to and I will likely take greater satisfaction for having not rushed through the process to get to the results. This is especially true where my son is concerned because as he approaches his 7th birthday, I often want to slow the clock down and keep him at this age a little longer. I think there is a way to do this though and that is by living in the moments where my life and his intersect a little more and not rushing through them; to do otherwise would just spin the hands of the clock faster and I want to enjoy him at this time in his life as long as I can, especially with the knowledge that right now, he is wishing for this month to fly by so he can get to that birthday. For someone who has always valued a high quality timepiece, I should understand by now that what the timepiece measures is far more valuable than the instrument of its measurement.
I also wanted to do something for myself and I wanted to do it at this point in my life while I still am in good health and can do it. I started to work on my weight back in October, this time under a doctor’s instruction and guidance. I have always struggled with weight because I live in the South and everything we cook down here is too good for our own good. Being overweight was not so hard on me in my twenties because I was much more physically active but as my work began to become more of the inside kind and less field work, I burned off less and less and then, after my son was born, I really put it on. On this birthday, six months later, I was pleased to see that I had lost 60 pounds. I feel better than I have felt in several years, my blood pressure is completely normal again I take no small measure of delight at weighing less than I have in 30 years. It wasn’t easy and my family had to put up with my ill moods and temperament through it but they never stopped supporting me. I’m not done yet either. I plan to keep going and see how much more I can lose. I can honestly say that I feel much better at 45 than I did at 40 so in one sense, I was able to turn back my own clock a few years.
I also wanted to start writing and a year ago, I created this place where I can come and empty my brain anytime I want to and collaborate with other writers while I’m doing it. Knowing that the measure of life is sometimes cut short, it gives me a place to leave a lot of myself in so that my son can enjoy knowing his dad a little better when he is older. Maybe my older self will be able to learn from the younger “me” as well some time down the road. I want to write and I feel like I need to write and I thank certain teachers that I had for giving me the tools to enable that, even if I resisted it and dismissed it at the time.
So have I found the perfect age? I don’t know whether that is possible to do because ever year of life is different for every single person. What is good for someone at 30 may be equally as good for another person at 60. I feel like I am at a good age though….I’m still young enough to do most all of the things I want to do but I am old enough to have learned from past mistakes and hopefully not repeat them. I’m old enough to want to be a good, responsible father to my son and better husband to my wife but I’m still young enough to enjoy being both and finding happiness in that. That is what middle age is apparently about…finding middle ground, the kind of ground that is solid, stable and that you can plant your feet on firmly. It’s about striking a balance between youth and maturity and knowing which is called for in most circumstances. It’s about preparing for the rest of your life and reconciling yourself to the finite nature of it, and learning to live in the moment and to enjoy those moments so that life stretches out a little longer and has a much richer flavor to it. Its a lot like coffee….a cup of instant coffee and a cup of coffee made from beans just ground and prepared in a percolator will achieve the exact same results but the whole-bean coffee is much more satisfying while doing it. Middle age is not so much about the ending of one phase of life as it is the beginning of another, full of unknown possibilities and potential. I intend to spend as much time as possible discovering the possibilities and developing my own potential.