Advancing years

By Jeff Petersen, The Observer June 01, 2012 08:38 am
Back when I was young, in the Pleistocene epoch, I wanted to look old.

Now that I am as old as granite ---- calcified, pruneified, Milk of Magnesiafied ---- I want to look young.

OK, so I just turned 55. It’s only middle age — if you’re from Okinawa and eat truckloads of sweet potatoes each day.

In America, the double-nickel, 55, is the terrible twos of old age.

You have 10, maybe 20 years to sweat until you can safely retire with hope of not having cat food as the main course most nights.

Fifty-five is a time when you discover your first wrinkles, age spots, thinning hair and well marbled belly. 

Fifty-five is a time when you discover perfectionism is as impossible as training a deer to do the hula hoop.

Fifty-five is a time when you discover that no matter how bad things get, you’ve seen worse — way worse.

You’ve seen a dad dying of bone cancer at age 70. You’ve seen the funeral where all his aunts and uncles in their mid-90s sit in a front row of chairs as the casket is lowered into the ground at the cemetery. 

You’ve seen a wife of 24 years die of complications of diabetes. You’ve had a year of grief recovery and then begun dating again and got remarried.

You’ve seen traumatic events, life-changing moments.

All these moments help keep molehills from growing into mountains. You’ve seen the mountains. You’ve breathed that rarefied air.

What’s important, in these advancing years, is to advance. To not get stuck in grief. To not get stuck in petty grievances. 

What’s important is not whether everyone likes us. Only two in three people will, as a rule of thumb, and to expect more is unrealistic.

The important thing is that we care. That we like ourselves. That we do our best in the hours we are given. To work hard. To play hard. To sleep blissfully.

OK, that may be asking a lot when you’re 55. The other morning it was 4:30 when the radio alarm went off, and I was already awake. 

My 80-something neighbor used to say if I woke up at 3 in the morning and saw her light on to come down and play cards.

This time of day even the smooth delivery of public broadcasting sounds harsh. Still, sleep or no sleep, it’s good to have survived to join Club 55.

The point is, at age 55 we can settle into the rocking chair and wait for the next 10 or 20 years to roll by so we can retire. Or we can get busy and enjoy each day and make these truly advancing years matter.


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