Well, that was a nice surprise… I’m younger than I thought. In years, at least. For some reason I’d been wandering around thinking myself a year older than I actually am. Quite when that started, I am not sure, though the whole question of age goes back a long way.
As a very small child I can remember proudly announcing my age to anyone who asked. There was never any question about covering it up or shifting the numbers. A three-year old is quite happy to be ’free’… Even though we generally mispronounce it, we don’t misquote our age.
There comes a crossover point, though, when the first time you are told that you look older than your years is a red letter day. The world has finally seen that you are no longer a child. It recognises what you have known for some time… you are an adult; a presence in the world. Of course you are! You are twelve, after all…
By sixteen you hope that you look eighteen… except when you need to pay full fare… and no-one is looking… when you might try admitting that you are almost sixteen… And by eighteen you are convinced that you know everything there is to know about growing up. You smile indulgently on ‘youngsters’ a couple of years younger than yourself and pity those who cannot pass the age-controlled doors of adulthood.
By your mid to late twenties you have begun to realise that perhaps you had still some learning to do. You look back at your younger self with the fond indulgence of a parent and shake your head at its adolescent folly and the arrogance of extreme youth.
By some point in your thirties, you know for a fact that you know very little. You realise that you never did. You might, if you are lucky, see that the preceding decades have been the necessary tilling of the ground, that seeds have been planted which, if nurtured, will grow, especially considering all the manure life has probably lavished on them by this point. By your forties, the first time someone tells you that you look younger than your age is a red letter day…
Then you hit your fifties. This is where the whole age thing gets really complicated. By the time you get halfway through this decade, your actual age can vary, becoming anywhere inbetween, “I’m only just over fifty” to ‘”I’m nearly sixty,” depending on the situation. You will hear yourself saying it in exactly the same tone of voice as the old lady who couldn’t possibly because, “I’m over seventy, you know…” or your great grandmother, who once said proudly, “I’m nearly ninety-nine.”
You have, no doubt, realised that by this point you are almost certainly past the halfway mark. And regardless of how healthy you are at this point, there is an increasing likelihood that this situation will steadily deteriorate. You might well be one of the lucky ones in this respect, but it is almost guaranteed that gravity will finally start winning the tug of war with your flesh, your eyes and hearing will become less acute and your memory a little more relaxed… less performance driven and more quality oriented.
The expected deterioration of the memory and senses does have its uses though… particularly before it has actually set in. Ageing vision allows a more relaxed attitude to housework. Dodgy joints can let the grass grow a bit longer and selective hearing is a godsend occasionally.
On the downside, the years speed by much quicker and you find yourself starting thoughts and phrases with “I remember when…” far more often than you used to. Tolerance levels become fickle and things that would once not affected you with leave you grumpy, whilst you actively encourage grandchildren to do things their parents would have been in trouble for… especially where finger-paints and drum sets are concerned. But, with every year you are made aware that there is probably more life behind you than there is in front. It is all downhill from here.
Of course, just how you choose to go downhill is up to you. You can cling to the illusion of youth, or embrace the changes, accepting the natural slowing of the pace of life as a well-earned perk. It might seem a slippery slope that has you careening into old age before you are ready, or you may choose to see it as a kind of extreme sport where you pick up speed as you go and enjoy the ride. It is all a question of perception and desire. It has, you realise, always been so and your admissible age has matched your desire to see yourself, or be perceived, in a certain way.
For many this is a time when worldly responsibilities may ease and leave time for hobbies and new ventures that fall under the heading of ‘”I always wanted to…” or even ‘bucket list’. For many too there is a turning within, as we evaluate life so far and begin to seek out the fruits of those well manured seeds planted so long ago. For some of these, a turning towards a spiritual path leads them to seek a new and inward direction that is really an outward expansion. This is another thing that comes with the years… a realisation that the inner and outer worlds reflect each other in ways hitherto unnoticed. This may be related to the concept of ‘middle-aged spread’… an inner reality mirrored around the waistline of the physical.
Be that as it may, with a month before another year turns for me, I realised I had been getting ahead of myself. I had fallen prey to the idea of “I am nearly…” instead of remembering that “I am only…” So it was a nice surprise when I was asked my age today and, after double checking on my fingers, even checking online just to be on the safe side….I realised that I was a year younger than I had been thinking. On the other hand, that year has almost run out and I missed being “only” and really am “nearly”.