I'm turning 65, but it smells like teen spirit / by sylvia kronstadt
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|Sat, 05-17-2014 - 5:14am|
This Magic Moment
I am coming to realize that I am in the midst of a Magic Moment: A tipping point between youth and old age. I am still young in so many ways -- in how I feel and behave, and in my tastes, energies and attitudes. By most measures, though, I will soon be a senior citizen. I am stunned by this. Every time I think about it, I am stunned all over again.
In a couple of weeks, I will be 65 years old. This moment is magic because I have all the considerable benefits of age, but I am not yet impaired by it. I am enjoying a "sweet spot" -- an interlude in which I have the best of both worlds. I am ever-mindful that it can't last. My sense of triumph, and even joy, will probably seem like naive hubris before long. Most of us go downhill as elderliness creeps in and takes over, and I can already sense that I will not be one of those lucky ones who remains vigorous, sharp and competent into my later years. I'm getting arthritis everywhere, although so far I'm able brazenly to ignore the pain, push right through it, and do everything I always have. Ha, ha, you bastard! I do seem to be falling down for no reason, but I just laugh (after lying there for a while) and theorize that my bruises and sore muscles will upstage the arthritis. Ha, ha, again, you bastard! I can sense the specter of Alzheimer's leering inside my head. I leer back. Because right now, in many respects, I am the best I've ever been.
I have felt like an impostor for most of my life, but this notion that I am "elderly" seems like the greatest, most hilarious con of all, as I suspect it does to many other Boomers. When I divulge my age (wearing a MegaDeth T-shirt, sweatpants and neon running shoes), it feels like a lie that I am telling myself, just for fun, or that I am telling everyone else, for shock value. I forgot to experience middle age -- it sneaked right past me, while I was dancing to "Weird Science" and "Rock the Casbah." I jog. I lift weights. My 45-year stretching regimen has left me more limber than the average 20-year-old. When I am rushed or pissed off, I chew gum like Britney Spears did in her "Oops...I Did It Again" era. Tousled airhead! I smell like teen spirit, just as Nirvana's Kurt Cobain ("I feel stupid and contagious") would have asked that I not do at my age.
I believe being an adult is a cruelly artificial, tightly constrained role that is thrust upon most people, due to the unfolding of normal life, in which a crushing array of obligations takes over. Do we ever truly, deeply grow up, or are we just obliged to pretend? Isn't it pretty miserable most of the time?
Since I never had children, and since I still have a mother, I -- for better and worse -- have had an arrested development. So this forthcoming phase of jowls and saggy boobs, creaky joints, bleary eyes, shuffling along, seems like a non sequitur. I never managed to become a woman. I remained a girl. That had its advantages, but I'm neither proud nor pleased that it worked out that way.
Even so, I have finally grasped the surprisingly convenient truth that I am getting old. They say "life is short," but it sure seems long to me: I feel as if I have been alive forever. First I was dead forever, and soon I'll be dead forever again. It's never made sense. Now it does. Being alive gets old, just as we do.
For several years, I have had the sensation that I have one foot in the grave, the other in high school. This "wide stance" was unnerving at first, but I'm enjoying it now. It has taken me into the quantum frame of mind (filled with perturbed physicists), in which I finally understand the concept that time is an illusion. I no longer regard my life as a linear unfolding of events, but rather as a thing, a whole, a particle -- kind of like a snow globe filled with mundane souvenirs -- that will soon disappear. I feel positively Cosmic and yet entirely inconsequential.
I love being "old" -- a state I learned early in life to dread and fear. It's even more liberating than I ever dreamed, to be freed of the pressures and expectations of youth. I don't care what anyone thinks about me any more, an attitude I may have taken a bit too far. I don't care about my looks any more either (although, ironically, I like what I see in the mirror for the first time in my life).
There is a dance that is going on inside me all the time now: The end-zone victory dance of someone who has completed the extended hazing ritual known as life. I made it through -- intact and rather cocky -- just in time to decline, not too slowly, I hope, and die. This sounds like the trajectory of an insect, not a Noble Species such as we. Kafka keeps coming to mind.
My favorite thing about being an Elderly Girl is that I seem to have become wise, without even trying. This has nothing to do with intellectual superiority. I imagine it happens to everyone who lives long enough and pays attention to "What's Goin' On." This is a wisdom that has crept up on me, having been building up all these years, as I lived through and observed so many Grand Eras, and I have the palpable feeling -- which grows a bit each day -- that I have a rich, expansive omniscience. Over the years, we take in so much, and at a certain point, it all seems to come together into a wonderful Body of Knowledge.
I sense this strongly now: That I have a nuanced, finely tuned perspective. There is a warm satisfaction about this that envelops me. Despite my "been there, done that" mentality, I am still vulnerable to youthful surges of amazement and fascination, delight and exhilaration. All it takes is a kitten or a cloud formation, a fine essay, music, acts of courage or selflessness. I am still quite a jazzy person. I feel hip and funky, I am strong, and I am outrageous. I skip in the grocery store. I'm impertinent. I'm brashly outgoing and freely critical. I swear, I glare, I gallivant. I grin. I tease. In most respects, I feel untouched by the affliction known as "maturity."
Being old exempts us from the everyday grind of striving and drama. I love old people, which sounds self-serving and opportunistic as senior citizenship hovers around me, looking for vulnerable spots to invade. But that's not it -- I've loved old people since I was in my 20s, and "some of my best friends" in New York were old. Our mutual enchantment was quite symbiotic.
My parents' situation during the past several years has placed me in nursing homes and care facilities for hours every day, for months at a time, and it's like being back in high school, minus the competition, gossip and hormonal distractions. Those people I grew up regarding as drab, icky specimens -- smelling like pee, and soon to smell like formaldehyde -- are a joy to me. There is a lovely softness to most of them, a gentle humor, a sense of peace and a surprising receptiveness to my personal questions. They want to be known. They love the fact that someone finds them fascinating, which they are. They revel in reminiscing, and I am honored to hear about their lives.
Those who have lost the capacity to speak respond with heartbreaking tenderness to my assistance and affection. Inside those pale, knobby heads, human beings still reside. I cut up their omelets and kiss their cheeks. I take them on fast wheelchair rides, and they say, "Whee!" This is my magic moment, because I am not the one in the wheelchair, even though I am often less than 10 years younger than the one who is. I lie to myself and think: I'm just a crazy kid!
I think I was well past adolescence before it occurred to me that old people weren't always old. I began trying to visualize them as fresh girls and boys, with dreams and crushes and struggles. I have come to believe what may have always been obvious those who are more thoughtful: That we forever remain those youngsters in many ways. When my mother cries, she is not a 96-year-old lady crying: She is a little girl who is scared and heartbroken.
Much to my surprise, I find the aging process to be interesting and sometimes funny. I am wrinkling and collapsing in areas of my body that I never dreamed were subject to such devolutions. My thighs look like elephant hide, except that the elephant's hide is a nice color than mine.
I had never thought of my life as a mountain, but suddenly I have reached the mountaintop, simply by trudging along from day to day, all these years. Now: Here I am. I can see for miles and miles.
I literally walk around with this mountaintop feeling, and it's very pleasant -- a "peak" experience. There is an aspect of equipoise to it: A sensation of calm and balance, up here, in the air, with all of life arrayed below. I feel a relieved detachment from the everyday world. As Kelly Clarkson sang, "I'm Already Gone." I can mingle, and send out good vibrations, but I am an observer now -- a compassionate one most of the time -- not a player.
This is the calm before the nightmare.
The thing about reaching the mountaintop, of course, is that there's nowhere to go but downhill. It's very rough terrain, I'm afraid. So for the time being, and for as long as possible, I will be planted firmly up here, feeling the breeze, grateful for everything I've had, and grieving for what we are doing to each other and to our beautiful planet.