Monday, March 10, 2008

For my friend, on the occasion of her 37th piece of trying news


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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26 comments:

thailandchani said...

For me, it was all about resiliency. I'm not as resilient as I was when I was younger. Major mistakes take longer to fix. Major emotional distress doesn't go away as quickly. There's less stomach for drama and upset of any kind. And I have far less tolerance for BS than I once had.

So that's part of what you have to look forward to in twenty years. :)

slouching mom said...

I'm so touched by this. Thank you.

Today my internist punched me in the arm, lightly, jokingly, and said, "Girl, what took you so long to come see me?"

And I responded, equally lightly, "I was stalling. And I guess I thought that if I waited long enough, it'd go away."

And on the way home, I realized how childish that was of me, on two counts. Both to stall, and to believe that a medical issue could just go away, magically, poof. The time for that kind of magic is long gone.

This growing up thing, it IS hard to do. You're right.

Angeline said...

I agree. This growing up thing, it is really not easy.

Angela said...

Oh, Julie. This is really just...perfect. I desperately needed someone to say all of this right now. You've no idea. It's all very frightening this letting go and growing older and watching certain doors close. You use the word fragile, and yes, that's it..that's how I feel. And now, I feel less alone in it. That is something wonderful. Thanks.....

Mad Hatter said...

I've been thinking about Sarah all evening. It does seem that this reality hits some people harder and faster than others.

Kyla said...

Heh. Logan's Run. I might have had to click on the link there. ;)

Still, in some ways, I know a bit about this. Maybe not in so many physical ways quite yet (although, yes, hamburgers and all beef is off the list of digestibles), but in the myriad of emotional ways. I know just a little. My body might be 24, but my life is not.

Robert said...

Too many deaths have hit people close to me this year. So far, I'd say you can have 2008. Beyond that, I have always felt a great sense of the fragility of life, and only recently have appreciated the joy of life through the eyes of a child - my own children's eyes. I am too used to seeing the dark underbelly, the missing half of the glass, the fleeting nature of existence.

All that said, I still take joy in life. What I may have wanted once, what may have passed me by, those are nothing to the joy of being with my children every day, with my wife. Money is a means to an end, but not something I would give up the time I have with my family for. And I don't live vicariously through their accomplishments. I just enjoy seeing the joy in their eyes with each new experience, each new skill gained or word learned. And the time that has passed is not such a big deal anymore.

flutter said...

tragedy doesn't have an age limit.

jeanie said...

Wow - looking back at the posts I have missed this week it has been a BIG WEEK for you anyway, without the feeling old aspect. Any particular reason why you are feeling numbers at the moment?

Growing up is very hard to do, indeed - some people seem to do so graciously but some of us notice every bump in the road.

Christine said...

i know i am not supposed to come away depressed or sad, i know that wasn't your intention, but. . ..

so i'll be light: baby carrots are killing me. i eat them they are free points, but damn i just want french fries.

Running on empty

Mama Drama Jenny, the Bloggess said...

Beautifully written, my friend.

And I think I'm in on the hump day thing this week (on Mama Drama). If I can find 10 minutes to write, that is.

Angela at mommy bytes said...

I've had that same TV experience. I graduated with Kevin James, the star of King of Queens. Didn't know him in high school, but he is there, right in my yearbook.

Kathryn said...

I'm turning 32 soon, and I guess I haven't hit this yet. I do have more aches and pains now. I can't drink like I used to (probably a good thing). I can't stay up quite as late as I used to. I never get to go dancing anymore. But all of that is fine with me. I think I have a strange attitude about aging. My mom was 36 (old in her day) when I was born and my dad was 44 (ancient), but they seemed so young to me. Age never seemed like an issue.
Also, I have been to SOOO many funerals in my life that I realized death really has nothing to do with age. AT ALL. My parent's buried my sis right before her 9th birthday. My good friend died at 21 from cancer. Another friend died at 22 from a heart infection. Still another died in a car accident in high school. Then I add in all of my grandparents' funerals, family friends, and acquaintances and I realize the ages are all over the charts. It can hit at any time.
I'm still wondering how I'll handle 40, but something tells me I'll be fine with it. Because sometimes I do miss who I was in my 20's, but most of the time I'm just excited to be where I am. And I know each decade will have something else to look forward to.
But again. Maybe I just haven't hit this yet.
Great post!

Melissa said...

I'll try not to come away depressed, but I'm not sure that's possible.

I'm really feelin' it this week. And not just because I just had a bday. Sigh...

Julie Pippert said...

Really briefly...I want to clarify something, the main point, which I think has gotten missed here and there:

This is not about hating growing old; it's about transitioning, which always brings loss (sad for passed phase) and excitement (for new phase).

That's why I said epiphany and loss, and added note 2.

***********************

Bon said...

i know the transitioning you speak of well, with its small but vivid losses and yet...sometimes hidden...its promises, compensations. i am not sure that the equation is truly equal...but it IS. it requires acceptance, this growing up and with it the inevitable growing old. but as you are saying, it does not mean the rocking chair...just a sometimes very painful forced change in how we perceive horizons, and ourselves.

a lovely post, Julie, for a lovely person.

Suz said...

On NPR, I heard 40 described as the "youth of old age."

I don't know why, but I like it.

This, this growing older, it's a strange new world.

Julie Pippert said...

Suz, NPR is a total swiper! I shoudl have trademarked. Ages ago I called 40 the second adolescence because it's such a physical and emotional transition period. Swipers I tell you. ;)

painted maypole said...

Yes, you may use my limerick anywhere you would like to. :)

Magpie said...

I still wonder what I'm going to be when I grow up. I still feel young.

But then I look in the mirror. Or I visit my mother. My mother is now old. And sick. And watching her age before my eyes is shocking, and makes me feel old.

Good post Julie.

Chicky Chicky Baby said...

Personally I think I might take a page from my father's book of growing old and just refuse. He has said for as long as I can remember that he's Peter Pan, and that the take-offs are still easy but it's the landings that are getting hard.

Heh.

Is there a female equivalent to Peter Pan?

jennifer h said...

I feel all of this that you described so eloquently. Yet there's a sense of relief, too, that some things are behind me.

I will say, that when I was young I might have imagined what I would do or feel like at 20 or 30, but I never imagined what life would look and feel like and 40. I'm quite sure I couldn't have speculated on it with any accuracy.

I play poker tournaments quite a bit, and sometimes I'll hear impatient players complaining about how long the game is dragging on. My answer, always, is "If you're lucky."

You know?

jennifer h said...

*at 40

Gwen said...

I remember being really happy to turn 30, to be done with my childhood, as I saw it. I don't feel nearly as sanguine about turning 40 in a couple years. But I have a sister who is 46 and she is just the same person I've always thought of her as, only better, so much better, that it gives me hope. So much of life is loss and the dealing of that with grace, however we can find it.

Christine said...

julie--i did totally got your point, and it was a wonderful post. I think i am just morose by nature sometimes and it is hard for me (sometimes) to dig out a dark place once i go there... i went there reading this post and sort of got stuck.

Running on empty

Cathy said...

When did you start reading my thoughts and expressing them so much better?

Great post.