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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Old Man Take A Look At My Life, I'm A Lot Like You

I've been thinking about aging a lot lately. My grandmother's recent passing was a major catalyst of course, but a few other events have kept the subject bubbling in the front part of my brain recently as well.

When my grandmother's memorial mass was scheduled, I got an email from my aunt informing me that I had been "selected by my cousins to represent the 'younger generation'." I'm turning 50 this year, and "younger" is not a term I would have used to describe my position within the familial hierarchy. I have younger cousins, I have younger nephews, nieces, second and third cousins. When your genetic heredity allows for five generations to occupy the room at the same time, you get a pretty clear sense of where you fit in age-wise.

Still, I got the point. We sometimes tend to perceive ourselves, not as occupying a present space, but in terms of occupying some former space, particularly as it relates to a significant individual or period in our lives, and for my cousins and myself Grandma was always the center of our family universe for so many years that it's natural to contextualize that relationship in terms of our formative years. So, okay, younger generation, got it.

But, I have to say, standing in front of a couple hundred people, roughly a quarter of whom were clearly younger than myself, brought home what should be perhaps an obvious point: every day I'm moving closer and closer to the older end of the spectrum. There are still quite few family members who, thankfully, continue to occupy the late middle-aged and elderly bracket, but I now find myself much closer to them than I do to the youngest on the other end; I'm somewhere just past the peak of the bell-curve and am looking at the downhill slide. I've got another 50 years, maybe more, based on genetics, health and whatever advances are made in the field of medical technology in that time, but the simple fact is that I'm on a cusp: at some point it will be an unavoidable circumstance that more of my life will be behind me than ahead of me. Which is not to say there isn't plenty more to look forward too (a half century is still a pretty long time!), but you can't ignore the reality, either.

This was brought home to me again just recently, when the son of a friend requested my presence at an "Elder's Tea" at his private elementary school. Meaghan and Ron have been friends of mine for more than 10 years, although I haven't really had much contact with their kids during that time. But, it turns out I'm probably one of the oldest people Owen knows aside from his grandparents, and since I'm more-or-less in the neighborhood, through some process my name came up to the top of the list of "elders" to invite.

Elder. I still can't quite wrap my brain around the concept.

A few days later I was chatting with my friend Molly about this, still trying to mentally reconcile myself to this inevitability. We'd got to talking about people moving away or traveling abroad for extended periods, and what sort of impulses compel people make such huge life-changing alterations in their circumstances, and I said I really couldn't envision myself living anywhere else but where I am. Travelling would be one thing, but I simply don't have any desire to pull up stakes at this point in my life and start anew in some strange place. After all, I said, everything - and just about everyone - I care about is right here; why would I ever want to leave that behind? Then I said something that resonated back to all this aging stuff: "I'm actually starting to look forward to being 70 or 80 years old," I said, "and since most of the people I know now will be in their 60's by then, that 10 or 15 or more years age difference won't seem very significant."

It wasn't so much the idea of being 70 or 80 that appealed to me as much as it was the idea that these people with whom I've chosen to associate would still be around, still together in some fashion, and that it was the security and stability of those relationships that attracted me more than anything. I suppose that's a very simplistic notion, but one I would imagine most people could embrace; the desire to maintain friendships over time, especially since so many of us seem to have had our lives uprooted in so many other ways.

My friend Stephen once said his dream was to make enough money to buy a huge house where all his best friends could live together. A few of my friends already live in similar group settings. But, it occurred to me that we're all already doing that right now - only the house is a city, and we can stay in it for as long as we choose.

I think I'm going to choose to stick around for a while...

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Posted byCOMTE on 12:03 PM

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