Several years ago, one of my best friends, (who is a bit older than I am), turned 55. I got P a special birthday card, snarkily remarking that he had reached the speed limit, and hosted a small party to celebrate, though he wasn’t in much of a party mood. At the time, I remember thinking some version of “better you than me,” as I had barely entered my 50s, and felt that time was on my side.
Fast forward five years and I’ve surpassed 55, too. In fact, at the end of this month I’ll be 57, a fine number for a brand of ketchup but one that seems positively ancient to me. I know, intellectually at least, that I have no excuse to get bummed out about my upcoming birthday. After all, I’m reasonably healthy, active, and as my younger brother reminds me annually, “It beats the alternative.”
Still, I’m (at best) ambivalent about turning another page. On one hand, I’m tired of winter, and ready for the longer days and lighter evenings of March and –- better yet –- April. By the end of January I’m always ready for the advent of spring, and getting past my birthday promises brighter days, warmer temperatures, and eventually, the sweet long days of summer. But as February –- the shortest month -- zips by, I’m facing the last third of my 50s, and the inevitable conclusion that I’m in late mid-life, even as I’ve mentally revised my definition of middle age from 40-60 up to 65.
Now I look around, look back, and find that the last ten years -- and particularly the last five -- have vaporized into thin air, leaving me breathless, as if I’d just been slapped in the face like the hunky men in those old Mennen Skin-Bracer commercials, or bopped on the head, like the folks who could have had a V-8.
Back when I was in my late-40s, I listened to an interview with the author James Atlas, who wrote a semi-humorous memoir, “My Life in the Middle Ages: A Survivor’s Tale.” The book focused on the inevitable losses that go with aging, such as dealing with elderly parents –- the truly old –- and their gradual loss of independence as their middle-aged children take over the role of parent. Now, as a fifty-something man dealing with my own mid-80s mother, I can relate to the awkward role-reversal that Atlas described in his book, and the various crises that come along with ever-increasing frequency.
Unlike Atlas, I don’t have a son who came into manhood just as my own physical skills started to decline. (There are two key scenes in the book, one in which the author, as a teenager, defeats his father at tennis; almost four decades later, the author’s son returns the favor as the wheel of time rolls on). Still, I see my nephew about to graduate from college with a degree in computer science, preparing for launch and a move to San Francisco, the world opening up before him. I wonder what I might do if given a second chance, and wish I could apply the wisdom I’ve accumulated to my younger twenty-something self. What if I knew then what I know now? Could I have avoided the depression and anxiety that dogged my 20s and 30s? Could I have developed a long-term relationship instead of spending those years alone?
But I digress. I cannot go back in time, cannot apply those life lessons to rewrite my past. There’s only now -- this week, month, year. I’m still looking forward to spring, but I don’t want to (as one friend reminded me recently), wish my life away, or make time go faster than it is now. If I make it to 67 or 77, I’ll look back at my current age and realize I didn’t appreciate the relative youth and health I have today.
Winter turns toward spring, February flows toward March. The current of life flows in only one direction. Meanwhile, I’m just trying to enjoy the ride.
Judah Leblang is a writer, teacher and storyteller in Boston. He will be performing his one man show, “One Man’s Journey through the Middle Ages” at Arts at the Armory, 191 Highland Avenue Room B-8 in Somerville on Thursday March 27 at 7:30 PM. For tickets ($10), call 617-466-9637 or go to cervenabarvapress.com
Pay as you go: Our web site is free, and we want to keep it that way. Bay Windows turns 31 this year. Will you pledge your support for the upcoming year by contributing funds? Your contribution will help us keep the website and paper free and improve our coverage. Please, if you are able, we welcome your support. Please note - your contribution is not tax deductible.