Monday, May 16, 2005

Officially Old

They say that you're only as old as you feel. Well, i feel pretty freakin' old. The last couple of weeks have been filled with indications of my inescapable oldness. My younger son just turned 8, the older is now 11. My retired parents were here for the last week, and even though they're still shy of 70 they're beginning to act very grand-parently. Worst of all, i've reached a point where it takes me so long to recover from pain and injury that i never really do recover. I've learned that if i want to continue running and doing martial arts i'll have to accept a level of constant, low-level background pain.

Being old has benefits though. My kids now closely resemble real human beings, so i can converse with them, and i can tease them without worrying that they won't realize i'm teasing them; and they can do all sorts of useful stuff like catch footballs and read interesting books. They're still kids though. They like to play in the yard and eat candy and watch cartoons, and they still think Jar Jar Binks is funny. My older son has reached the age where he's self-aware enough to care about what he looks like and how others see him. Over the weekend we had a birthday party at the house for Henry, my younger son. The mom and sister of one of Henry's friends came by the house at the end of the party, the sister being a lovely young girl who's in the same grade as my older son, Nathan. Nathan and his friend Alex were so tense and self-conscious that i though they might actually explode.

The most appealing yet vexing aspect of reaching middle age (for me) is that, being in the middle, one has a lot of life to look back on and a fair bit to look forward to. I like this because i have enough experience that i can differentiate between the things that make me happy and the things that were meant to meet somebody else's expectations. I can recognize bullshit at first sight, so i don't invest a lot of effort in worrying about the outcome of the inconsequential. I've got a great family and sufficient material comfort so that i'm not driven toward bogus ideas of success and happiness.

The vexing part is that i'm not driven by much of anything. To employ a well-worn metaphor, i feel at times like i'm at the top of a hill. I can look back at the path i came up, and i can see many possible paths back down. But i don't have any motivation to do much but sit and look at this time. I'm not sure what gets people to move on. Maybe it's boredom, maybe you find a path that looks better than the others, maybe you get chased off by a bear. Maybe it starts to get dark and cold and scary on the top of the hill so that getting down gains a sense of urgency. The thing is: i don't know.

But i'm not especially worried that i don't know. The first half of your adult life is essentially all about the constant anxiety of not knowing how it's all going to come out. And then maybe an old friend gets sick in a way that you think only old people get sick. Or a friend dies in a way that could happen only to a grown-up, responsible adult. You reach that age that Arundhati Roy describes in her novel The God of Small Things as a "viable, die-able age". Although everybody knows intellectually that you can't predict what will happen from day to day, when you understand it you are officially old.

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