I was sitting in a South End café across from my friend Cathy, whom I’ve known for the past 20 years. When we met in the early ‘90s at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Western Massachusetts, we were aspiring yogis in our thirties, with lean and supple bodies. Now, sitting in the dim light of the restaurant, we were in our fifties, our bodies not so flexible, no longer infused with the glow of youth.
At 50, Cathy has a four-year-old daughter, and interacts with the other mothers at her kindergartener’s school. Those mothers, at 30 or 35, are in a different phase of life, a different stage than she and I.
“I feel like there’s a gap between us, a chasm,” Cathy says, referring to the other mothers. “I can see the end from here,” she says matter-of-factly, as if looking out at Boston harbor and spotting Castle Island.
“Don’t go there,” I say, half to myself. After all, I’m almost five years older than my friend. If she can see the end, I must be heading for a fall, off a cliff, out to sea.
“C’mon. We’re still active, and 50 is the new 40.”
But it is really? Mother nature only gives us so much time, energy, days on Earth. Sitting in the gathering gloom, I realized I was suspended, equidistant between 35 and 75, and that in only ten years I will qualify for Medicare, retirement, and senior citizen discounts I am not anxious to receive.
I’ve heard all the clichés, the reminders that, “Age is just a number,” and “I don’t even think about it.” (‘It’ being the inevitable march of the years, the spinning of the numbers that pile up like our national debt.) Usually I hear these soothing mantras from acquaintances ten or fifteen years my junior, men who have just reached 40 or 45. Check back with me in ten years, I think, keeping my mouth shut, not wanting to burst their bubble of denial.
Sometimes, like when I face another milestone birthday— I turned 55 earlier this year —I am brought up short, slapped by time, like the men in those old Mennen Skin Bracer commercials. Then, like the actors in those ads, I take a breath, and head out to do ‘the next dumb thing,’ to live my life as fully as I know how.
Back in the restaurant, we talk of Denise’s tender hip and my arthritic foot, and of the almost inexhaustible supply of energy we had in 1992, which, like our strategic oil reserves, are not so plentiful today. Still, when I step back and examine my life, I wouldn’t want to return to the ‘me’ of twenty years ago. Though I had more time— a surplus of it— I struggled to fill those hours, bogged down in anxiety and depression. Even when I spent a year living in a yoga ashram, I often ran like a hamster on a wheel, my mind spinning with various worries, too anxious to eat or sleep.
Soon it was past 9 p.m., time for my friend to get back to her young daughter, and for me to head home to my cat, and the unfinished lesson plans for an upcoming writing retreat. It’s only in the last ten years, since 2000 or so, that I’ve been living out loud and exploring my passions for writing, teaching and telling stories. During that same era, Cathy got married, had a child (better late than never), and is exploring family life. In some ways, maybe we’ve saved the best for middle age. We have a bit less energy, but more focus, less time but more sense of its value.
Today, if I look just so, I can see the end from here. But for now, I’m choosing not to look.