I always thought, as a kid, that growing old would be awful because you’d be aware that you have less and less time ahead of you. As a teenager I thought how depressing it would be, thirty years old, working every day, with no childhood to return to, only old age ahead. This feeling was enhanced by the fact that my teenage years were not fantastic, and that the adults around me said they were the best years of my life.
Now that I’m forty, I see things differently. The first reason is practical: if you’ve been making use of your time on earth, by middle age you ought to have learned a few things, established yourself, and set yourself up for the future. I have done this – I no longer need to work full time or every year in order to support myself. I am beyond fear of job loss or penury. I’ve lived through tragic and trying circumstances that have given me the quiet Stoicism and perspective to deal with almost any challenge life may throw at me.
The second reason is more philosophical: I have fewer years ahead of me, but I’m fortunate to have those forty years behind me. I survived, I grew, I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. If I were to grow ill now and die, it would be less of a tragedy than if I were I child, because I could reflect upon the half-life I got to have and be grateful for it.
The third reason is even more philosophical: the inevitable approach of death is, in many ways, a release. I no longer need to worry so much about being cool, having a successful career, getting the cute girls, seeing all the world’s amazing places, being in awesome shape, dressing sharp, or anything else. Who cares? I’ll be dead soon anyway.
Younger people often stress about making themselves proud and achieving something in their lives. By middle age, whatever success or failure you had is done and dusted. If you’re a high flyer, you’re already used to it and it makes no difference anymore. If many dreams came to naught, you’ve long since become resigned to the fact and now seek personal fulfillment in other, more promising aspects of your life.
I’m aware that this is the time that many other people have a mid-life crisis. I think I skipped it and went straight to serene old age.
Who cares what you ‘achieve’ between forty and sixty? It doesn’t matter. What matters, you should know by now, is doing what you want to do, family and friends, and saving for retirement so that you can do even more of what you like in the future. It is natural that the young are go-getters, but in an older person it can signal a lack of wisdom. Do those aging politicians who spend every waking moment vying for the top job seem wise to you?
My final reason for accepting aging gracefully is having met genuinely wise older people who have things figured out. They’ve eaten well and exercised their whole lives, avoided abusing drugs or alcohol, saved money, learned much, and have reached a state of Zen that impending death can only enhance, not impede. It is easier to act bravely and well when you have role models to emulate.
Bring on fifty, inshallah. Bring on sixty. If I live to a ripe old age despite everything, bring on those milestones, too. I fear losing my strength and faculties as I age, but I do not fear aging itself and I fear death less with each passing year.
All time is a blessing: that ahead of us, and that which lays behind.
And I’ll take being forty over being a spotty, horny, inconvenient stiffy-suffering 15 year old any time. Thank God that nonsense is done with.
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