25) Gratitude Day 5: Aging

I’m grateful for aging.

Once you become an adult, you spend a few years thinking you’re pretty much still the same as you were before your 19th birthday (yes, 19 where I live…..how can you be an adult if you can’t buy yourself a beer?). Just cooler. Cuz not only can you buy that aforementioned beer, you can travel, live on your own, and stop hiding from your parents that you’re having sex. Not necessarily in that order.

Then you start talking about high school being “10 years ago” and….it’s weird…..but, nostalgia is okay, and your future is still, you hope, much longer than your past.

Then, around 30, maybe sooner, maybe later, but eventually, you start to feel….”different”. You’re not “the youth” anymore. You’re still cool though. Cooler, in fact, because now youth culture seems really silly, and you look at the selfie-taking teens in coffee shops, with their giggles and pimples and too-frequent swearing and too-tight-too-skimpy clothes (although you still look….), and you think — bah…..ridiculous. You only half understand their humour (at least, you tell yourself you still understand half of it…), but you also know that they only half-understand the fullness of Life that you are becoming aware of.

Pop culture slowly slips ahead of you while you listen to the “good music” and get caught up with money, kids, relationships, education/work. Not necessarily in that order.

You make a lot of mistakes. At least, I did. You slowly start realizing that the platitudes and sayings you’ve heard all your life, actually ARE wise, but one can’t truly understand their wisdom, at the gut level, until mistakes, yours or others’, crack you open, like the plow opening the soil.

You also realize that many of those “wise sayings” actually aren’t wise at all, but are just the motivated, perhaps desperate reasoning of people in the past, trying to make sense of their lives and justify their own decisions and suffering. What doesn’t kill you doesn’t necessarily make you stronger, and everything doesn’t happen for a reason…. Although, you CAN learn lessons from everything that happens.

You start thinking more and more about the “older people” who’ve influenced you — grandparents, mentors, teachers, heck maybe even your parents! Turns out, they knew stuff and you realize you didn’t have to make as many mistakes as you made, if only you’d listened to them just a little bit more.

You start losing people more often. You go to more funerals. You wish you had spent more time with some people and told them what they meant to you while they were still alive.

You start realizing, in little spurts and jumps, that death is not an abstraction or something that “happens to other people”.  And no, immortality is not The Secret you will unlock.  And no, time travellers are not going to come back into the past and resurrect you someday, no matter how cleverly you write on your tombstone that they should because ONLY YOU have hidden knowledge that will save their world from ultimate destruction. (This was my plan for a long time.)

Many of the people you know get married, have kids, start to define themselves more through their work. Some of these marriages die, and you watch people, or yourself, struggle to overcome cynicism and distrust.  Some of the kids die, and you learn about Grief, and Strength, in a way you could not have imagined before.  These are Life Lessons you never want to learn, or watch a friend learn.  But Life teaches them to you anyway.  Like hide and seek — ready or not, here it comes.

Some people spiral into drugs and sloth and despair. Some get caught up in the rat race of materialism and status seeking. Some hit bottom, and stay there. Some hit bottom, and grow into healthier people than before.

Your body changes, and generally, you accept it more, even are grateful for it. You feel tired more often. You start having more significant health problems, more often, and realize that your indestructibility and Wolverine-like healing powers never actually existed.

Your idea of “sexy” expands……broadly, and you wish you’d realized that when you were younger.

Love is a struggle, punctuated with joy.  For some, it seems to be a joy, punctuated with struggle.  But I haven’t known too many people like that. The search for Love (and in the interim, Sex), takes up much of your “free time”. As you have deeper, adult relationships with people and get to know what’s under the surface, you realize anew, over and over, that everyone is flawed. Some people take this knowledge and turn it into compassion; others, weaponize it and become more cruel and deceitful. Some do both because, after all, people are flawed.

You forgive more easily. But you don’t forgive everybody (or at least, I haven’t….yet); the ones who seem to cause harm intentionally and who refuse to take responsibility for their mistakes, you feel more capable to stand up to, say “no” and allow your honest anger to be what it is without apologizing it away or internalizing it into shame. You become more aware that you are not as wise as you once thought you were, and maybe, you’ll even grow past this anger. But at least you don’t have to feel badly about it. It “is what it is”, and you become more accepting of that.

Aging makes you appreciate what you have. You feel more acutely that all things are already broken, and everything you have is already doomed. That awareness stops being just terrifying, and starts…..freeing you…..you can relax into yourself a little more easily.

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Thich Nhat Hanh once likened life to rapids that tumble down the mountainside in a frothy, ecstatic rush, slowing somewhat to a burbling, meandering stream further down, then broadening into a slow, flat, peaceful river near the bottom. And then eventually emptying, into the ocean.

I am glad I’m not the frothy rapids anymore, and also that I haven’t yet become the ocean. Being a stream, widening into a river, is actually a lovely experience. I feel my depths more, instead of just trying to. I feel calmer, instead of running after the next pleasure or excitement or accomplishment. I’d like to say I notice beauty more, but that’s not true; I notice beauty in a quieter way now, less desperate and clingy, no longer grabbing for it and clutching it tightly like a shield that can ward off the horrors out there.

Existential questions occupy less of your time, because there are so many things right in front of you that need your attention, so many problems right in front of you that need to be solved, so many people right in front of you who you can share your time with.

Your way of seeing life becomes less dualistic, less like a trade-off between the temporal and eternal. You start to feel that the eternity of death takes nothing away, indeed adds to, the vivacious Now.

And children…..you appreciate children in a way that you didn’t when you were a child. Their wide-open eyes, staring at ants, making toys out of kitchen-ware, forts out of blankets and chairs. Their wide-open minds, asking why so many people are mean, why there are homeless people, and how, exactly, does DNA work anyway? Their wide-open arms, ready to hug (especially when their friends aren’t around). Their wide-open feelings, bouncing from spike to trough and back to spike again while you are still sipping the same cup of coffee. Their wide-open laughter, spilling out of them multiple times per minute, reminding you that Life is damn funny, if you remember to stop thinking about how it isn’t.

When I was younger, I thought it was better to burn out than to fade away. Now I know that’s not true. I didn’t think I would make it through my 20s, and frankly, I didn’t care. But I’m glad that I did.

Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think! :)

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