By guest Gero-punk Lorie Bailey
I turned 41 this past Monday. Beginning a few years back, I’ve taken on a new perspective regarding birthdays: rather than thinking of how many years I’ve been alive (which for me can produce self-critical feelings of having not accomplished enough, grown knowledgeable enough, figured out how to be happy, etc.), I think about how much more time I have (or at least I hope I will have) to live. It all started as a joke, when one of my friends made the theme for my 35th birthday party “Halfway to 70.” The joke was to place emphasis on how much closer I was to being an old lady (70—yikes!); but, instead, I was hit with the realization that there was/is so much more time to live out this human life of mine, to travel along my life course: I was only halfway to 70, imagine! This new perspective is one I’ve carried with me ever since, especially at birthdays.
Some might say that I shouldn’tthink of a birthday in terms of the past or of the future, but only as the now. I can’t do a thing to change the past (I can make reparations, but what’s happened has happened), and I might be struck by a falling tree during a trail run tomorrow; therefore, I should focus on the now. The Power of Now sits on my bookshelf in the ‘must read soon’ section right next to Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and life. It’s been there since my ex-therapist insisted that I read it immediately (five years ago). Books have a way of hanging out on my bookshelf waiting for the right time, even going from bookshelf to cardboard box to bookshelf a few times, until I finally pick it up and read it and realize that it is the perfect book for what I need right now. I had Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek for over 10 years before I finally plucked it from its place on the shelf and read it. My guess is, if I’d have tried to read it when it was given to me as a gift 10 years ago, I would’ve been unlikely to persevere beyond the first few pages. I needed to read it at 40, not 30, halfway to 80, not to 60. Who knows when the timing will be right for The Power of Now, maybe next week, maybe in 10 years, maybe in 40.
Now, as I approach my 41st, halfway on my journey to 82, rather than focus on what I haven’t done (finish my degree, figure out what I want “to be” when I finish, read The Power of Now), I’m instead inspired by how much there is I might do in the next 41 years. Even just the number of books that can be read in that amount of time is exciting. The only big bummer about being halfway to 82 is the truth that my best more-than-human friend, Daisy, a beautiful hound-mix, will not be accompanying me for most of these yet-to-be-lived years. I might have her by my side for another 10 to 12 years if I’m lucky. This is, I believe, a glitch in the evolutionary process: why two species who have evolved to share such intertwined life courses would have such disparate life expectancies. Thus, I live knowing that in the next 10 to 12 years, my heart will be broken. Another book on my “must read soon” shelf: The Denial of Death, by Ernest Becker. Is it that I haven’t yet fully acknowledged my own mortality that I find it so hard to acknowledge that of my dog? Or is this yet another reminder about living in the present, the now; Daisy rests curled by my side, snoring softly as I finish up this little essay, resting up before our next adventure in the great outdoors. This moment is the now, and maybe that’s the point. I do hope, however, to keep traveling along this life course as long as possible; I’d like to meet my 82 year-old-self. I’ll bet she’d tell me to get my butt off this sofa now and go get some outdoor exercise—I’ve got a long journey ahead.
Here’s another way to use your age as a means to gain perspective:
I’m 76, which is getting along but not ancient, and my birthday (in April, 1936) is closer to Abraham Lincoln’s assassination than it is to Obama’s inauguration. When I mention this, most people develop a blank stare for a bit, then react with some measure of disbelief. If I go back another 76 years, it’s around the time of the signing of the US Constitution. Either I am really ancient or our country is still a relative baby.
Beautiful, Lorie! I have the same type of shelf peppered with must-read books that aren’t quite ready to be read. Maybe those books have become our milestone markers?
I love it Lorie – and I so agree with the life expectancy part of our pets (although I’m a cat person). I’m not sure I can say I’m half way there – 114 – but who knows – by then that might be the average age. I do know its been an interesting journey so far and I look forward to the other “half”, whatever it might be.