this too
Monday, June 20, 2005

Too many conflicting, co-existing concepts of age.

I’ve almost reached my father’s age when I was born – 52. This, I grew up being told, was OLD, TOO OLD, too old for anything, the reason for our family’s unhappiness.

I’m younger than quite a few friends who are vigorous, useful, sometimes blithely silly, and don’t seem old at all.

And I’m much, much older than adults who, when I was a child, seemed very old. Did people wear out more quickly 40 years ago and genuinely have a different concept of themselves? Or was it all a ruse: tell the kids that older people are fundamentally different, live on the far side of a great barrier, so they’ll fear and respect us?

Too confusing. Mostly doesn’t matter. Life is today, being present, doing what you can.

On Friday, my birthday, I was crawling out of migraine, shaking and slow and very old – and yet, even then, not convinced that life is passing by this fast.

Then it got too hot to think and I became a grey-white, swollen, slowed-down, labouring slug. Not sure I’m human, never mind young or old.

We went on Saturday to the big and wonderful exhibition at Tate Modern of paintings by Frida Kahlo, who died the year that I was born. Such delight. Such colours and emotion and pain and play and strength and eyes, her eyes over and over, looking at me. I curl up and squeak with fascinated pleasure and my mind is young, young, with the aliveness of it (though not without qualms at so much joy in so much pain). And my body is old and swollen and wants to lie down on the gallery floor.

o confusing. Try to remind myself that the capacity for searing delight and searing self-disgust, for soaring in my own head and slithering on the ground like a fat, old worm, are two sides of a coin. The only choice: not joy or disgust, but extremes or no extremes. For learning to hold the extremes, accept them, a lifetime’s not enough.
50 was the hardest birtday I ever had, and I was glad I was sick, so I spent the day in bed. That year I didn't have a party, hid from my friends, was gloomy even with my kids over it. This year I turned 53, in March, and, wow, something happened- I don't feel so old anymore, or I've stopped caring, and I realize except for the energy to dance all night, I feel pretty much the same as 30 years ago, and who cares about the wrinkles or veiny hands, the not-so-great teeth, the greying hair that I just had a disaster with coloring, it's what you give, surely, that counts the most anyway. Besides, you know, we could be through only half our lives, and in our 90s we'll wonder why we thought the 50s were so old! *hugs xo
Brenda, thanks for sharing that. I know you're right. Life has its ups and downs, and age is the least of it. It just gets intertwined with a lot of other stuff, which is sometimes confusing (did I say that before? - it's so hot here, it's not making me any less confused).
Ooh Jean I know what you mean. I was 56 at the end of May. I can feel very old, flabby and wrinkly and switch to young energetic and vital in the space of 15 minutes or so. And how to hold these two extremes of youth and age without embracing one to the exclusion of the other ....

I do think though that I can get away with less. Structure - spiritual practice, eating right, exercise, taking care of myself, and especially getting enough sleep - I can't manage without these now and I suffer badly if I neglect them for any length of time.

I don't get migraines but I am struggling with back pain that has gone from mild chronic to blazingly acute after a too-enthusiastic yoga class, so the emphasis is on "old" today .. osteopath for me on Wednesday.

I think though that we Geminis always retain the curious child within us and the accompanying sense of wonder and joy (and sometimes mischief!) - and that comes across in your words and photography.
Mary, I hope you had a happy birthday! And I hope the osteopath helps and you're not trying to do anything but rest, with back pain on top of this debilitating heat.
Jean, I suffer from migraines too!

52 was for me a great year. So I am hoping it will get better for you too. The fifties are our introduction to becoming older and are vital to set the tone for what lies ahead, I think.

I identify so much with Mary's comments (especially because I turned 56 in May as well!) here: "I can feel very old, flabby and wrinkly and switch to young energetic and vital in the space of 15 minutes or so," and "I think though that we Geminis always retain the curious child within us and the accompanying sense of wonder and joy (and sometimes mischief!)"

You describe Kahlo as I feel her. What a fantastic exhibit for one's birthday.

This is a beautiful post - so full of what so many of us go through, I think. You always say it as it is! Thank you.
Thanks for your good wishes Jean. Resting as much as I can .... London is not designed for heat!
Yeah, ain't it the truth? The really hard part is learning to allow multiple views to coexist inside us without trying to analyze them away. Just being, not working it all out.

I don't have the energy to reconcile all conflicts any more. I need to steward resources--sleep, nourishment, good company. And maybe it is a very good thing that I don't have the energy for all that work now. Or maybe it's just a thing, neither good nor bad, just where I am.
I think it is easier if we can just accept that our outlook on our lives (and others) and our physical sensations can change in an instant from youthful to decrepit. I've come to expect it, and I'm trying to embrace it.
I hated turning 30, but 40 was a pleasure, and I have decided not to dwell on 50 as it begins it's approach. I have taken care of geriatric patient populations, among the older set: 60's seem young for most folks, 80 is when age seems most to leave it's mark, but even then, not on everyone.
There is a quotation of unknown origin (to me) that I hold fast to.

You get what everyone gets. You get a lifetime.
Ah, those extremes! I'm still reading up on sensitivity and the intensity with which sensitive people experience things - joy and pain. Yes, best to make peace with it and accept its gifts.

And yes to what Mary said about Geminis! Curiosity keeps you young and vital. Balanced with taking care of yourself and nurturing your spirit.
Yes, the 50s bring with them a certain sense of that physical downward slope, and sometimes it gets to me too. But honestly, I wouldn't want to go backwards to any previous age. I liked what zohenw said about each of us getting a lifetime, and also brenda's comment about how we could live 40 years more. Looking at my father-in-law, still doing pretty well at 96, makes me much less inclined to whimper about age at age 52! I'm just hoping that I'll eventually get more comfortable with it - this new sense of self-identity as "older".
Jean, I love your statement that the only choice is between extremes or no extremes. But I don't know which to choose!

It's good to read all these comments and see that many of the things I've been feeling in my early 50s are widely shared. (I turned 53 on March 22, Brenda. Also had a dismal turning-50, and have gotten past it.)

I think it is actually true that there's been a widespread change in cultural attitudes and that ages previously considered old are no longer considered so. Lucky for us baby boomers, who dominate the world's perceptions! In a few years, 60 will be considered "still young".
Happy belated birthday, Jean! :-)
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