I think I have reached the age when I am firmly entrenched in Middle Age. And from here, things look great!
I look back and see the stages of maturity I have experienced and witnessed others experience and I'm happy to be where I am. What's more, I'm looking forward to what is to come!
Childhood will always remain the most special time, of course. There will never be another time so fresh and new, so unconcerned about age and where we are in life. The thought that we will one day be like the grown-ups (and that they were once-upon-a-time kids, like us) is not a concept we held with any sense of reality. Some children might wish they were older so they could do things they can't do as children. But this is more a desire for the privileges that autonomy promises. "I wish I were big, so I could stay up all night." "I wish I were old enough to drive, so I can go where I want whenever I want." "I wish I were a grown up, so I could buy whatever I want." Age seemed to be the magic key to power and freedom, but now we know that those freedoms come with great responsibilities and the best freedoms came with childhood.
That magic period gave way to adolescence, which had its own difficulties and was surrounded with a sense of loss for the end of the magic days of childhood and a foreboding that grown-up-hood really was a looming probability. Or, at least adulthood. We were never going to become grown-ups for sure!
Turning 20 began the phase of having made it! There were college, perhaps, and jobs, bank accounts and living on one's own. There were good friends and going out till all hours! There was also energy, glossy hair, tight skin and a firm knowledge that we are what it's all about! We're what everyone wants to be! We're going to do things - and, in fact, already are doing things!
When thirty was on the horizon, it was the first realization I had that I can't stay here forever - in my roaring twenties. I can't stop getting older. When I imagined myself as a grown-up, it was always as vaguely in my twenties - you know, like all the people on TV. I'm was about to turn thirty and be old!! I was not married at this age and that panic began to kick in too. It was all fun and games before - planning my future life and spouse and family, but now I was at serious risk of being left behind! Surely, the fulfillment of my dreams was just around the corner! Look at those younger people, in their twenties! They were still young and having fun and going somewhere! They were full of possibility and there I was getting old!
But, when thirty arrived, it came with a nice surprise. It was better than the twenties! Who knew? I was a more settled person, whose brain had gelled a bit. It was not only still fun, it was more fun to be in my thirties! I was much better than I was in the previous decade - even though I was glancing more seriously at anti-wrinkle cream ads. I went to grad school, where I hoped I would finally meet my future spouse. I was not alone in becoming increasingly aware of the time to accomplish these great life plans ticking away. My girlfriends and I, being in our thirties, calculated it out and knew (as my friend Carol put it) our "baby age." That was the maximum number of babies we could have (not counting multiples) if we were to meet our future spouse right then. We planned, of course, like all our other enthusiastically Catholic friends, to have as many children as God would send - which would, naturally, be at least five or six. I eventually did get married and had a child. Whew!
It was a time of striving for what I had always hoped my life would be, but still happily recognizing how much more complete a person I had become than I was in the previous decade. The thirties brough a decade of sorrowful mysteries for me, too. I had lost a child and fertility wasn't as abundant as I expected for someone so open to life. And in the midst of my desperation, forty came near. This signified to me the end of life as I knew it. Once again.
Unstoppable, the forties arrived, however, with their own surprises. Not only was I given the gift of another baby, but I discovered that I really liked who I was becoming so much more than ever before! It was fun to look at "kids" in their twenties and think (and say, smugly), "Oh, they're so young and foolish." This was accompanied by the consternation of realizing that, to them, I was an old person, who was expired because I lacked their freedom, their energy, their tight skin. On the other hand, I discovered that they enjoyed me for what I had to offer them: the guidance of a little life experience, a different perspective, encouragement and good ideas. Enter the discovery of my growing wisdom!
By the end of my forties, as I looked back over my life at the growth I could now clearly see. I was pleased to be my age and the person I had become thus far. While the acuity of my eyesight plummeted right on schedule, the appreciation of my own developing inner vision - wisdom - also grew. It may be my declining energy that contributes to being less uptight, less concerned about what others think. I care less about what they think about me as well as what they think at all! Others may have their opinions - and they needn't coincide with mine. For the first time, I saw the next decade approaching with a sense of adventure and welcome! Bring on the fifties!!
I am still only a novice pentagenerian. The benefits of interior growth still outstrip the exterior decline. The consideration of whether or not to color my graying hair is now a matter of weighing which is less vain: to color it to look better or to show off the gray as a sign of my sagacity. Fortunately, there are the temporary hair colors that avoid the commitment of either!
Now, I'm not saying I've become guru-like in my wisdom, but I have gained some depth in my thinking that was absent in former ages. I see this and appreciate it in others, as well. Older people are becoming a rich resource, to me! One development in my perception is that I see the human person more clearly. I see the individuality and persistence of each individual person as something more solid than I had in the past. And it makes people more precious. Babies have always been a delight. In my younger days, they elicited an inevitable "Awwwww!" and a desire to hold them. But, they were pretty much interchangeable. They were all just A baby. As I've aged, their personhood, unrepeatable uniqueness and personality are so much more readily apparent, even from birth! And, when I look at any individual of any age, it is easier to see the whole person including their younger self and who God made them to be. And this goes a long way toward being able to love them.
I'm mainly writing all this as an encouragement for those who are not enthusiastic about aging, especially when another landmark birthday (30, 40, 50) is hovering like a storm cloud. I hope you will come to look forward to the beauty of the rainbow and fresh air that will accompany it! You may have to put on your new bifocals to read that AARP ad that came in the mail, or decide whether you want to accept the senior discount that the twenty-year-old just offered you or fess up that you're not yet quite eligible. Just try to remember this: the way I see it from here is, if I keep improving at this rate, I shall be superb when I'm eighty!