“I just turned 23, and I don’t like it,” the young woman told me. “I really don’t want to be old.”
I blinked at this fresh, lovely thing with her perfect hair and unlined face, so many years away from anything so jarring as a wrinkle.
But but but, I sputtered. But you’re so young. You’ll be young for decades.
“I just wish I weren’t getting older.”
Look, I said. Look. I’m 52, almost 30 years older than you, right? And I can’t let myself feel old, because if I do, then in another 10 years I’ll beat myself up for not enjoying my younger days.
“I don’t know,” she said, clearly skeptical.
You can’t feel old!, I said. It’s a waste of time! See, I look back on my 40s and think, I didn’t realize how young I was! When I was in my 40s I looked back on my 30s and thought, My God! I was a baby!
She still looked skeptical.
Seriously! When I’m in my 60s, I’ll look back on my 50s and think, I was so young! I had no idea! So if I’m always looking back and realizing how young I was then, whenever then was, then maybe I’m never actually old, right? If I’m always getting older, then that must mean I’m always young. So I may as well enjoy being whatever age I am now. May as well not bother feeling old.
I stopped when she shot me another glance that said mmmmyeeaaahhhh-no-I-don’t-think-so, at which point three realizations smacked me hard. One: SHE THINKS I’M REALLY OLD. Two: WHEN I WAS THAT AGE, I WOULD HAVE THOUGHT I WAS REALLY OLD, TOO. In fact, when I was that age I owned a cane handed to me on graduation from Hamilton, and I remember staring at it and thinking: I’ll never need this. I’ll never be old. NO NO NO NO NO.
Three: I’ll never be old. No no no no no. It hits me often, this disconnect between my chronological age and how I feel inside. Inside I don’t feel 52; I feel around 12, maybe 16 in my more rebellious moments, although I should stress that I’m using “inside” in the non-literal sense and not in any way that suggests that my joints, eyeballs and assorted sagging organs function exactly as they did 40 years ago. That “inside” is in constant, unfortunate flux. But even so, I know that it’s in better shape now than it will be 10 or 20 years hence. So why sweat it? Why fixate on what can’t change (the march of time) and what inexorably does (my age)?
Anyway, I do love getting older, which gives me license to say what I think and not give a mission fig what others say and think in response. I wish I’d had that liberated mindset and unleashed mouth when I was younger, but it took me a few decades to nurture and unfetter them both. And losing my sister Lucy to suicide 23 years ago only made me more grateful to be alive, more determined to laugh and love and pucker and age for the both of us. She can’t. I must.
In the meantime, I may as well embrace the aging process, because it might last a while longer. Maybe a long while longer. Decades. Generations, even. What if I hit 100? Will I look back on my 90s and think, Ya damn fool whippersnapper! You should have enjoyed your youth!
I’d best shut up and listen.