Note 1: The You? Yeah, you, I mean you, or maybe not, maybe I just mean general you. Maybe you just hit 30 and have no idea how fast this decade passes. Or maybe you aren't even 30 yet. Maybe you are 50, and think I know nothing yet. The point is, there is always something more and less on either side of us, however you view it.
This past weekend, Angela at Reality Testing and I both wrote about loss, and grief. We wrote about it very differently. I made mine humorous, she made hers poignant, and neither of us wrote about the traditional sort of loss or the standard sort of grief. Then, today, my dear friend Sarah wrote movingly, also, on the same topic.
I'm not sure how to put it into words, but there is a loss that occurs, or that you finally become aware of, at about this age. It is the loss of youth and illusion, perhaps, although a corner of me debates that this is what it is.
It goes back to that Russo quote, in a way.
I don't think we begin to view life backwards---at least not all the time---but there is a point when you realize something along the lines of, "this is the beginning of the end." It sounds morbid and morose, but it's not. In fact, it might very well be the absolute opposite. It might be motivating, and invigorating. It's life, with acceptance and a new knowledge of its brief flicker.
It starts with little things, and you hardly notice. You think, oh this is growing up. That slides into, oh this is growing old.
For me, the first of the last hurrahs, more or less, was when I was 25, and went out on a work night with friends. It suddenly wasn't as fun, and I was worried about being tired the next day. My mind was thinking forward, worrying a bit about a project. I wasn't simply in the moment. I woke up the next day, regretful. I was tired, and a little hung over.
The next of the last hurrahs was when friends began taking out of state opportunities, and eventually we, too, took one. Our last ties with friends from youth slowly dissolved, even though minds and hearts had not let them go. Some part of you thinks, oh someday, when things settle, we'll catch back up. But when someday comes, everybody has built full and busy lives, without much space for the old.
Children, moving into parenthood is another hurrah. Instead of turning your attention so much outwards, with friends, your attention turns more inward, to family. There's almost no choice for it. You begin to select places to live, things to do, and friends that are family-friendly. You might have at one time wanted a brownstone in Brooklyn and a demanding career, but you've chosen to have a family, and so...you're elsewhere, doing something else.
I think it is somewhere around here, that you begin to feel that sense of slipping. You made choices, and that closed off some opportunity. The world is no longer limitless, and you, untethered. Although new possibilities are always on the horizon, there are limits now, more resounding consequences.
It might be realizing, wow, I don't care to eat hamburgers anymore because the old GI tract isn't up to such challenging digestion.
It might be grieving the loss of potential or career accomplishment, or settling into a compromise of some sort, while others zip past you.
Maybe it's when your status alters from wunderkind to that's simply meeting expectations.
It could be discovering that you really do need eight hours of sleep, otherwise you feel achy and crabby all the next day. Or maybe it's finding that your medicine cabinet contains less grooming products and more health care products.
You hope it's that simple. But it rarely is.
Sometimes it's divorce: yours or a close friend's. You feel the fragility of ties keenly now, and you might even pull back a bit from friendships---in a pointless pattern of protection.
Sometimes it's death or a near death experience such as a disease: a peer, someone close in age or a relative. You feel the fragility of life. "It was just a headache, that's how it started. Headaches every afternoon!" Someone said to you in a whisper at the funeral, and instead of thinking simply what a shame, you went on to think oh I have a headaches a lot of afternoons, and you wondered if you ought to call your doctor. You also wondered whether hypochondria is a requirement for old age. One time you did call your doctor, and you walked in with a laundry list of aches and pains, and your doctor said, "That is just the aging body...totally normal."
You stared in shock at him or her---surely the doctor is in error and something is grievously wrong with you; you are not old, old age is not happening to you, not yet! But the doctor is resolute, and you paused, gaping, wondering why nobody ever told you. You thought aches and pains and feeling physically old (way too frequently) was something that happened later, to older people---unless, gasp, wait, are you now the older person?
When you stood up from the exam room table, your knee was locked from having dangled for too long. You rolled your head on your stiff neck, and flexed your back, achy from hunching with no support. You thought, I really need to add more core strength training to my workout. It takes less and less food and more and more exercise to stay fit and healthy these days. Sometimes you cringe at the color orange you are so tired of carrots.
Maybe Logan's Run had a point, with its sandmen, Lastday and Sleepshop.
When you make this quip to a younger friend, he or she stares uncomprehendingly at you, and you realize this person wasn't even born in the 70s, much less watching dark movies such as Logan's Run then.
My mother called me the other day to turn on the television, "I think you went to high school with that guy!" she said excitedly.
I flipped to the channel and watched---it was some middle-aged guy, okay looking, but face slackening and sliding closer to his neck, body a little meaty, hair gray at the temples. I peered more closely.
Holy mother of goodness and invention.
I did go to high school with that guy. And he was not old; he was my age.
I---you---conquer vanity and do not run to the mirror to peer at any loose skin under the jaw. You---I---do not hold up the arms and check for waddling. There will be not formal photo comparisons of then and now. Although, as you passed your engagement and wedding photos, framed, hanging in the hall, you did notice how ridiculously young you looked. Grown up. Right. You did not laugh aloud.
That's because---although it is worth it to have a sense of humor and many days you do---deep down there is a sense of loss and grief. You've accomplished the first half of your life's goals now. You've done the things you are supposed to: completed college, took a job and worked hard at it, got married, had children, bought a house, and so forth.
Now things seem to be unraveling in some way.
It's both an epiphany and a confused sense of loss, all at once.
Yes, an epiphany...
a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.
And a confused sense of loss.
detriment, disadvantage, or deprivation from failure to keep, have, or get; the state of being deprived of or of being without something that one has had; the accidental or inadvertent losing of something; a losing by defeat; failure to make good use of something, as time; waste; failure to preserve or maintain: loss of engine speed at high altitudes; destruction or ruin...
Some of us have this more broadly than others, maybe it started earlier, or more tragically. Some of us have a series of small losses, while others have big and obvious ones. We look at our peers at this age and feel both blessed and cursed by comparison.
In a funny way, a couple or more decades past high school, life can feel more than a little bit just like high school, where you are clustered into communities with people not so much of your choosing as by quirk of fate and placement. You have types now too, just like then: the rebel, refusing to grow old at all much less gracefully, still trying to be hipper than hip; the alpha bitch, clawing her way to the top of the social heap and remaining there by hook or crook; the athlete, focusing the hyper into strenuous training and competitiveness, making sure you know exactly how many miles he or she does each week; the Patty Simcox of the PTA; the loner, the person you always pass by but never see at any events; the drama king/queen; the party people; the adult version of laid back person, always seeking the drama or intense person for teasing; and so on.
In a not so funny way, you are definitely not 18 any longer.
Most days you monitor calories, activity, amount of daily fiber intake with good cheer and gratitude for knowledge that keeps the wheelworks running smoothly.
But other days, you don't want to have to worry about whether you took your daily multi-vitamin and cholesterol or other medication, and how those onion rings might feedback on you at bedtime. So maybe the youthful spirit hasn't gasped its last gasp, and maybe you play hookie from middle-aged and getting older for a day.
Funny or serious, it's a sense of loss, regardless.
You know, personally, all too well, that things---and people---do fall apart.
Note 2: Please don't walk away from this with a pessimistic message. I intend this to validate that sort of loss and grief we may feel as we get older. That by no means is intended to imply that we are finished, or wrap up in fleece and rock in a chair. There are blessings to this, too. We are vital, active and living.
Note 3: Wednesday's topic for Hump Day Hmm is...courtesy of Angela at mommybytes, "...describe an incident where you or someone was wronged, in what would normally be considered outside of the social norms, and how you reacted, how you wish you reacted and what is possibly the best way to inform these idiots that they screwed up if that is even possible." Thanks Angela for a great topic.
Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
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