So, I am coming upon a new milestone in the middle of this week. I officially reach mid-life (Since my maternal grandmother lived to be 100 I can say this.).
Thanks to the magic of social media I have been observing many of the “kids” I grew up with, and went to school with, turning 50. Many of them, except for their online presence, I’ve not seen since high school. Many of them have grandchildren now, as do I. Time really does fly.
When I was in school the “oldies” were the songs of my parent’s generation. Now the term includes the music of my childhood and early adult years, and even beyond. And, just as I could never see my parents as anything but old, I am looked at by my son and students as an “old guy”.
Physically, I get a few more aches and pains now. I have to live within my limits. And, occasionally, I am reminded of them clearly.
As I’ve approached this marker (over the past few years, actually) I’ve taken some steps to slow down (if not reverse) the aging process. I’ve made diet changes, and added some physical and mental exercise to my routines. I play word and math games, and read, to keep my mind as sharp as possible. As an aside, I should add Facebook debates, but I’m trying to lay off of them. (They’re usually pretty fruitless.) And I take walks in the neighborhood (which has both physical and mental benefits).
Yesterday, as I have been doing for a couple of weeks now, since letting my gym membership lapse, I was working with a set of weights that my son got at a garage sale a couple of years ago. It’s not a lot of weight, but it’s sufficient for a decent workout. (This is about being healthy, not body-building). Anyway, after doing a few sets of squats, and some core and upper-body lifts, I was feeling pretty good. Then I set the weights aside, and thought I would do some exercises that I remembered from PE classes as a kid. Remember the windmill? That’s the one where you stand with your feet spread apart, and from a standing position, you bend your waist and reach for your left foot with your right hand, then stand back up. Then repeat with your left hand to your right foot. Yes, that one. That’s when I threw my back out. No weights involved – just my muscles, joints, and gravity. I’ve spent the better part of today on an icepack. I did go to a movie this afternoon with some friends. When I got up to leave the theater after the movie was over, I felt like the tinman from the Wizard of Oz, in need of an oil can.
My eyes, though, have been diminishing now for just over 10 years. I couldn’t type this without my reading glasses. It was hard for me to accept the weakening of my eyesight. My eyes were great till a month or so before I turned 40. I can’t pick out as much detail anymore. And I really dislike fine print and product labels.
I’ve always enjoyed a strong sense of hearing also. Yet I can’t always discern pitch as well these days. On a good note, I think my singing is getting better!
I also have found in the last few years that I have a more difficult time controlling my tears. And I feel things very deeply. Even today at the movies, they showed a trailer for the upcoming movie “Interstellar”. I don’t know if it will be a good movie, or not, but the trailer made me cry. Movies, music, pictures, acts of kindness – they all carry the possibility of bringing tears.
But despite what seems like negatives of aging, there are some definite benefits.
As I’ve learned that I cannot always trust my eyes to accurately report my surroundings, so that serves to remind me that we don’t always see things the same way. And that doesn’t necessarily make either of us wrong (or right, for that matter). Just as I sometimes have to hand something to someone else and ask, “What does this say?”, so I inquire of others, “How do you see this issue, and why?”. I believe that we all have limited vision, but collectively we can see so much more.
The loss of pitch discernment causes me to listen more intently. I have to work harder to clear my head of the noise of my own agenda to clearly hear what you are saying. I have learned that everyone is capable of contributing something beautiful to the conversation. I think one of the greatest compliments I ever receive is to be quoted (in context, in an affirming way). I think we miss out on many pearls of wisdom because we are formulating and rehearsing our response rather than truly hearing the other side of a conversation.
My physical limitations cause me to be still just a little more. To rest. Breathe deeply. Take better care of my body and soul.
My tears? I don’t apologize for them. They come from a life of feeling, connecting, pursuing goodness, and realizing my own imperfections. They express both grief and joy, anger and love. They come when I see the world at it’s worst, and at it’s finest. To feel deeply is not a weakness. And to express those feelings is to be authentic. Neuropathy is a danger of many diseases. It causes you to lose feeling in your extremities, most especially your feet. Without the nerves firing as they are designed we don’t always know when we are wounded. We are more susceptible to burns and cuts because we lose the reflex action to draw back from heat or something sharp. Untreated wounds can get infected. Tears are proof that we can still feel. Pain and longing are better than numbness, because they drive us to change.
As I turn 50 this week, I know that I’ll never have the body of a 20- or 30-year-old again. I accept that. But I also know this: I’ll have 50 years of experience being human; I have had many successes and failures (and I’ll make more of each); I have made and lost friends (And I have a few that are more valuable to me than all the riches of the world.) and; I have brought happiness and sadness to others. There are things that I would go back and change if given the chance, and things I would never change (even painful experiences, because they helped shape me). I regret the times that I have caused others pain, or disappointed people I care for. But, with all said and done, I like who I am.
I am not perfect by any stretch.
But I like me.
My next 50 years, I’ll use the lessons I’ve learned over the last 50, to try to do more good than harm, to see more clearly, to listen more carefully, to experience all of life more fully, to love more completely. And to do all these more grace-fully. I am beginning a new chapter. Clean page. Fresh pen. I am HOPEful, and have much more story to write.