Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin'
Into the future
- "Fly Like An Eagle", Steve Miller Band
Getting older is a complicated thing to describe.
It's the unpleasant pangs of resigned guilt when you forget things and the disappointed or mildly exasperated reactions of people. It's wondering if they think you weren't listening when they told you the first time, or whether they just chalk it up to you losing your memory because you're old now. It's wondering if they're right.
It's being overwhelmed and intoxicated by nostalgia when you hear an old song and are instantly transported back to some prior time in your life that didn't seem particularly important then, but sure feels so now.
It's spending huge chunks of time thinking about your life, and what you've accomplished, and how you should feel about it, what other people who know you well, think about it.
It's suddenly getting a weird little pain in your chest, or a slight numbness in your fingers or the bottoms of your feet and then mentally spiraling off into thoughts of what severe health problem it's probably an early warning sign of.
It's looking in the mirror and sighing at what you see, hoping that people care more about the inside of you than the outside, wishing friends you've recently made knew you when you were younger, in spite of the fact that by all accounts they like you just fine now.
It's getting lost for hours in reading old logs of conversations you forgot you had with people from 10 or 15 years ago and realizing how different things were then and how far you've come in some ways...and how much you've stayed the same in others.
It's being in the middle of taking a nice hot shower and suddenly randomly thinking about how old your parents are, and how they surely won't be alive much longer, and how little time you've spent with them, and how you're going to cope when the phone call eventually comes.
It's lying in bed at night, unable to stop thinking about things, begging your body to please sleep. The way it's mysteriously harder to find a comfortable sleeping position, waking up repeatedly and failing to resist looking at the clock again, which is always a mistake. It's being tired regularly, even when you manage good night's sleep.
I'm 48 years old, and I hate the way every time I tell someone else, I feel like I'm admitting a dirty secret and hoping they don't instantly have a less favorable impression of me. Every now and then you see the return of the "you're too old to do [thing]" argument on social media, but thankfully it usually gets shot down quickly. Most people I've met seem to view it as a positive, if not neutral.
I am at the point of dad comparisons and while I avoided the label for a while because I was afraid that it was limiting in terms of how people would perceive me, it's impossible not to see the ways in which I fit. I make "dad" jokes... sometimes. I have a "dad" bod, which while not something I'm particularly happy about, I'm happy that other people I like seem happy about it. I try to give advice and impart wisdom, I try to protect the people I care about, I go around the house I live in constantly picking stuff up, cleaning things and turning lights off. Sometimes I cannot relate at all to things that very young people do (like give substantial amounts of money to people who they really don't know for playing video games those people would be playing anyway). I'm not an actual dad, of course, but depending on the person and circumstance, being thought of as such is no longer the negative that I felt it was for a long time.
In spite of all those years, in some ways I'm still very young at heart, and it's not hard to see. I eagerly embrace things that most adults would find childish or silly, and I do so without apology. I probably won't ever have kids of my own, which is a little bit sad and probably even more so for my parents. I think all parents just assume that their kids will have kids, one of those major life events that they have to look forward to. I haven't even had a wedding. My graduation from high school was the last time I feel like I gave them something to be proud of. Ouch. I think about how my dad was at my age, or perhaps how I thought he was at my age, and it feels like we couldn't possibly be any more different, even as I often do things that are so much like him that I have to laugh.
I've long since retired, my son's moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, I'd like to see you if you don't mind
He said, I'd love to, dad, if I can find the time
You see, my new job's a hassle, and the kids have the flu
But it's sure nice talking to you, dad
It's been sure nice talking to you
And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me
He'd grown up just like me
My boy was just like me
And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
"When you coming home, son?" "I don't know when"
But we'll get together then, dad
We're gonna have a good time then
- "Cats In The Cradle", Harry Chapin
My dad used to cry whenever he heard that song. I teased him about it, because I was a dumb kid. Now I cry when I hear that song because I understand so well what I couldn't then. How bitterly ironic that those words have become so prophetic. Hell, I cry when I hear "100 Years" by Five For Fighting or "Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)" by Green Day. Geez Croc, you sure do cry over music a lot!
Yeah, sometimes I do, and I'm actually pretty okay with that. It's a reminder of how much I still care and how insanely emotionally powerful music can be.
It's hard to believe so much time has passed already, and I know I only get to be here so long. If I died tomorrow, I could say I had a pretty good life, with great friends, in spite of rather limited accomplishments. But I'm not ready, and I don't know if I'll ever be ready to cease to exist forever. I would love to believe in Heaven or even some kind of reincarnation, but I'm not sure that I really do. So far, I haven't been able to cope with the implications of the concept of death, and I really, really hope that at some point I can come to terms with that before it happens.
I am much, much smarter, more compassionate and more mature, but at the expense of feeling easily fatigued and distressingly content to spend long hours just passing the time doing whatever trivial thing grants me the most pleasure with the least effort. Whatever can just keep my ceaseless mind occupied so it doesn't decide to play with my closet full of anxieties, which is consequently its favorite thing to do when I go to bed at night.
Getting older is a battle that never ends. It's knowing the way you should feel, the way you should act, the way you should think, and diligently trying to remind yourself of it when you don't. It's rewriting your negative thoughts into positive ones and writing long Twitter threads about it in the hopes that maybe it can help someone else who might feel the same.
It's realizing that you spent so much of your life treating every decent person you ever met like a Pokémon you had to catch and befriend, so you never had to be alone again. Seeing that sometimes the successes you've had can lead to unexpected excess, and then just stress. Scrolling through your lengthy chat list and realizing that there are really good people you haven't talked to in almost a year simply because you had completely forgotten about them in the constant barrage of data and conversation and advertisements and responsibility and self-questioning and just...coping.
It's seeing reflections of yourself in younger people, in their struggles, wanting so badly to save them the pain that you know is inevitable and even necessary, because it is only that which impacts us personally and deeply that allows us to learn, heal and grow as people.
It's watching an old movie or series that you love again, and realizing you've forgotten so much of it that it's almost like seeing it again for the first time, and not being sure if that's a great thing or a sad thing.
But it's also the way it feels when an old friend you haven't seen in ages walks into the room and smiles at you with genuine joy. The shared experiences, good and bad, felt in a familiar embrace. The deep meandering conversations full of laughter and vulnerability that keep you both up until you realize it's almost daylight.
It's going outside on a typical day, seeing the colors of flowers and the smell of the breeze, and honestly feeling grateful for simple pleasures, knowing that you could never have appreciated it fully when you were younger.
It's looking at photos of yourself (younger or perhaps fuzzier), and realizing just how lucky you were to get to experience those things, no matter how common they might have seemed. Especially when the people in them can no longer be in your life anymore. Gracefully accepting that unfortunate events should never be allowed to tarnish the honest joy and love we once felt, even if future events changed everything.
It's the sense of total peace and contentment you feel in a room full of people who have known you long enough to make affectionate jokes about you, who will hold you protectively when you sob, or take you aside privately to gently but honestly talk to you when they are genuinely concerned about you or your actions, no matter how uncomfortable it is.
For so many years it was easy for me to think of my grandparents in selfish terms. Old people who liked old things but occasionally gave me neat stuff and bought me things I liked. I look at pictures of my grandmother when she was a young woman and I'm stunned at how beautiful she was. Old people are the punch line to life's cruel joke. We jeer their driving skills, we chastise their naivety, we find humor in their futility, their odd clothes, their stereotypical ranting, their eccentric tastes. They don't understand us, so we don't make much effort to understand them. We don't want to even THINK about being like that. It took me too long to realize that my grandparents were more than just wrinkles bearing ice cream on a warm summer day, boringly thorough but eventually valuable lessons on the right way to do something I wasn't particularly interested in at the time, or the endless word search books on the end table next to the bifocals. They were people who had fascinating and eventful lives, dreams and hopes and tragedies, but never talk about it because they've learned that no one really wants to hear about that.
My grandparents are all gone now, have been for many years. They were all quite different from each other, but they all loved me in whatever way they could, whatever ways I let them. There's so much I wish I'd had the maturity to ask, so many things I couldn't have cared less about then, and will never know now. I just hope they all knew that I loved and appreciated them.
Be patient with your older friends and old people in general. You may not understand what they're going through, but you will. Older people need to be reminded of their worth, not just because they're entering the last stage of their lives, fading slowly into both obscurity and oblivion, bodies and minds slipping away, many of their greatest wishes or deeds becoming lost to time. Give them as much love and attention as you can. Ask them about their lives, and listen to the potentially long winded and rambling answers. See the inner person, not the slowly failing shell. This will be you someday, if you're lucky enough to get that far.
As difficult as getting older is, I never stop being grateful for most of the life I've had and the close friends I've made. I've come to accept that anxiety is my daily companion, a dog in the distance always barking so much that you just learn to tune it out most of the time. I don't know how much longer I have, but I'm never going to stop reminding myself to make the most of it.
"You're only as old as you feel," is probably a bit glib and cliché, but if the love, patience and support we give each other as we age cannot actually keep us young, it can make a difficult process a lot more enjoyable.