Saturday, August 27, 2005

On growing up and growing older

Sparked by a conversation I had with a group of customers recently (a birthday dinner for a 15 year old and three generations were present.) The exchange was very warm and entirely devoid of condescension or disrespect and the result was some interesting perspectives. I'm certain that at least part of the overall positive concensus of the group had to do with the fact that they were clearly a close group, the family members being especially so.

Predictably, this got me to thinking about my personal attitudes toward 'growing up' and getting older. I remember dreading getting down to the business part of growing up and what sounded like the pure horror of getting old. I think that I pegged that time as being somewhere around the age of 30. This seemed all the more ominous by coinciding with the new millenium: the end of life as I knew it, most definitely. Then, I turned 30 and it was nothing like I had dreamt it would be when I was, say, 12.

As soon as it dawned on me that there was a much wider range of possibilities for the 'rest of my life' than my mother's dire predictions of death at her hands, death at the hands of a serial rapist/murderer or a life of STD's in a trailer park with many children sired by as many men or my 'foster parents' ' desire for me to marry and have children with a nice Christian guy, my perspective changed dramatically.

So, now I'm closer to 40 than 30 and I find that I'm enjoying it very much. I survived a screwy childhood, made it through the crash course in life and how to live it that my 20's seemed fraught with, tried on the 'shoulds' and 'coulds' for size and recognized myself in the mix. What's more, I liked what I saw. I found out that growing up and growing old is, in fact, not a prison sentence, but open season on living my life on my terms. The older I get, the more confident I become, if for no other reason than realizing that being wrong and making a mistake is often more valuable than being right. I've also learned that others' unhappiness/judgments/values need not dictate my own.

The playing field is different now and while I could choose to make it about the size of my waist or flawless surface of my face, when I'm with, or better yet, see current pictures of the people I've known and loved for most of my life and juxtapose those elements – a thicker waist, crow's feet, scars, stretch marks, etc – with what I've known of them from the past, I see history and stories that span the range of pain & pleasure, mundane & exceptional all wrapped up in the present. To me, that's far more beautiful than an arbitrary standard of attractiveness or physical desirability.

I'm aware that others don't see it this way, but, for me, it's an exchange. I can't drink at the same pace or volume that I once could, can't party like I used to, don't recover as quickly as I once did, can't stay up for days on end by a combination of caffeine and sheer will and for that matter, can't even drink coffee like I have in the past. And, yes, my body is slower and more prone to aching than it was a decade or two ago.

So, I've learned to bring it down a notch or two and instead, I drink slowly and to savor now, remember all of the fantastic conversations/events that I'm part of, and am at ease & present in a way I haven't been for many years. And I have some incredible memories that were fostered by faster recovery times and great stories behind many of those aches. There have been some wonderful years, but I'm hesitant to buy into the idea of a peak year or age, just because it feels fatalistic to me. Some periods kick your ass & others kiss it.

I don't imagine that I'll ever be the old lady type. It's just not my style. I've always been a scatterbrain and am prone to forgetting my own name if directly asked under the right circumstances, but the older I get, the more things in my brain become connected, and those associations become stronger or perhaps more relevant. Yet the more I learn, the more I realize that there's so much I'll never know or experience. And I'm ok with that, but I'll sure as hell take as much as I can get before the end of my run on this planet.

Ultimately, it feels like getting older is a priviledge that I never expected to experience quite the way that I am – so while some of the good has most certainly been got, it feels as though there's plenty more to come.

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