I can feel a certain change stirring within me, especially as I age. I find that I’m increasingly becoming the contrarian. If I talk to younger people, I’m the first to tell them how tough life will be and if it’s not difficult for them now, I chide them and tell ’em “then you ain’t doin’ it right”.
Why do I do that? Why am I like that? Is it because of anger…bitterness…rage-filled regret? Am I jealous that this person is younger, thinner….prettier than I ever was? Why can’t I just give them that? Truth is, I can. And I do. It’s not that I’m that jealous. Honest injun. Well, I am jealous I suppose, but not because these people are anything I’m not or wasn’t. I was all that. In my day, I was a cute little number, short in stature but attitude gave me altitude. My personality would enter a room 20 minutes before the rest of me did.
I was invincible. Fearless. Confident as hell which allowed me to be an ace at holding the upper hand in most situations. I felt mentally and emotionally immortal and what made it all even better was the fact that I had a metabolism like a blast furnace. I could eat One-A-Day vitamins with Iron and fart nails 20 minutes later.
If I’m jealous at all, it’s because they I’m jealous of the time they have . They’ve got so much it ahead of them. But it’ll pass…just like that. In a heartbeat, a snap…in the wink of an eye.
I can remember when I was 27 and was offered the anchor position at a TV news station. The former anchor,who was then, a 49-year-old man was given the option of “wanting out” to spend more time with family. I guess that’s how they allowed him to save face. But we all knew what happened. He got old.
He told me on his way out of the door on his last day on the job, that I should always remember this moment feels. At first I thought he meant that I would always remember how getting this promotio would feel. Then, I soon learned that what he wanted me to remember was his demotion. He told me that someday, I’d be walking out a door for the last time, too.
I remember standing there, stunned and a little angry that his old man bitterness, was screwing me out of some new gig excitement.
“Get over it, Grandpa ! Don’t pee all over my joy!!!”
Then, he walked out the door. I have always known about the pendulum and how it swings both ways. I knew it then, but in the fall of 1986 as the 27th ring was forming in the tree trunk of my life, it didn’t matter.
Twenty four years have passed since that day and in that time, I’ve learned exactly how he felt. I’ve looked into the crows feet-less eyes of my much younger replacement as I walked out of studio doors for the last time. .
Yesterday, I looked into the crows’ feet ravaged orbs of colleagues, who like me, have lived and fought the broadcast battle time and time again. Fifteen old friends and former colleagues who spent years rubbing shoulders in cramped studios, had a reunion, of sorts. We met at a Houston area restaurant and we drank….a lot. We laughed….a lot… and we shared memories.
I studied the faces of these people and in them, I saw who I was and where I’ve been.
I looked at R and remembered that incident….
Talking to M reminded of that time….
S brought back memories of that place….
I’ve aged with these people. We have many miles under our belts and for me, this mileage is manifesting in all the traditional ways. My skin is sagging in places where it used to be taught. If I extend my arms straight in front of me, the underside of my biceps look like they have fleshy keels attached to them. My crow’s-feet need new shoes. My hair is graying and L’Oreal is powerless to stop it.
We are who we were, just older versions and with aging comes this unique trade out. Supple skin is replaced with knowledge and experience. Gone is all that idealism and the belief that all things are possible. To be fair, we still believe that, but we now understand the limitations of optimism. Faith is fleeting but it’s vital when it can muster staying power. The world was our oyster and we had the luxury of time and youthful exuberance to be anything and do anything we wanted. And it was all ahead of us. In front of us.
Now, it’s behind us. And we can feel how we’ve evolved. Edifying becomes a conscious effort that’s easier to tackle. We no longer want what we once wanted, nor do we believe what we once believed. We stopped operating on the assumption that everything will always work out. We now understand more about ourselves and others and how the world works. We’ve stopped the wistful wishing for that which is never likely to happen and are instead willing to rid ourselves of any and all disappointment that might have resulted. It’s not that we’ve become jaded; we’re just more incisive. We can still coax forth successes, it’s just that success is defined differently at this stage.
But the best thing about this process is that aging doesn’t negate simple truths. It’s still a drag getting to the last peanut M&M in the bag. A 70-year-old can still feel cheated if the top scoop of the ice cream cone falls off. Cute puppies will always make us smile, so will being with friends you’ve known forever.
We are there; we’ve arrived at Middle Age and we did it together, while apart. But living long enough becomes its own classroom. We now know something we didn’t 30 years ago. We kn0w that growing older is unavoidable, but growing up isn’t. It’s optional.
Now, this isn’t something you can tell someone younger. No, this is something they’ll have to learn on their own and they will…..
When they get older.