Monday, January 20, 2014

Wild rides and reading glasses


Photo by Jenn Vargas via Flickr
I'm not quite sure how this happened. Oh, I know the science about everything aging and everything tending towards entropy and decay, but really, wasn't I going to stay young forever? It's strange how in your teens, your twenties and even still your thirties it SEEMS as if you will be young forever. Mid-life is that thing you look around and see other people doing, but somehow it is a distant speck on your own horizon, something to be staved off with healthy living and plenty of sleep.

And then one day you wake up and realize "This is it. I am officially on the downhill slide to fifty." You reach for your reading glasses to study the restaurant menu and think about how just a year ago you sat at dinner with your bosses and their wives and how they all pulled out their reading glasses at the same moment and chuckled together while you and your husband smiled at how funny the fifty-year-olds were. But here you are a year later, member of the reading glasses tribe, trying to figure out how to adjust to life with them, certain you are never going to see anything clearly again. (Not that it's a bad thing. You can still pretend you're young if you can't see the grey hairs and wrinkles, right?)

It is sometimes easy to say "Well, this is it. My life is over. I have nothing to offer these young whipper-snappers so hand me my cane and get off my lawn." It's tempting to think that what we've experienced so far is the sum of all we are and all we ever will be. And if you didn't get to do it all yet? The novel unwritten, the poems unpublished, the friendships not grown strong and sweet with wine in the garden on a summer evening or coffee by the fire in the wintertime? All of those trips not taken and the knowledge not learned? It's sad to think that none of that may ever happen.

And yet...

James Michner published his first book when he was 40.

Toni Morrison was 40 and a single mother when she published The Bluest Eye.

Alex Haley published Roots, his first novel, when he was 55.

Sue Monk Kidd was 54 when The Secret Life of Bees was published.

Laura Ingalls Wilder? 65 years old when the first Little House book was published.

Mary Delany began creating the botanical collages for which she is most well known when she was 72, going on to make over 1,000 of them.

Grandma Moses was 76 when she began painting.

Dr. Seuss was in his forties when he began successfully writing children's books.

Julia Child didn't enter cooking school until age 36. (She was a spy before that. Really.)

Morgan Freeman's first major Hollywood role came when he was 52.

Rodney Dangerfield was in his forties when he began his comedy career (after being unsuccessful and quitting in his twenties).

Harland Sanders (that's the Colonel, ya'll) started cooking chicken at age 40 and didn't sell his first franchise until he was 65.

And the list could go on, not only with those who started later, but with those who struggled and tried and failed and tried again, or who didn't begin to reach their full potential until the years spun past forty and on into the later decades.


I think we forget that sometimes when we are surrounded with images of the young, the fresh-faced and successful. We get used to the 'over the hill' jokes and the black balloons at forty and we let the culture subtly tell us that this is it, maybe it's all over until you hit those retirement years and can hang out on your sailboat. But the in-between? It's a slow downhill plod to 65.

But what if it isn't? What if we went over the hill only it wasn't a hill but just the downward swoop of the roller-coaster and it's all just one grand and wild ride that's taking us up and down and sideways and sometimes a little bit shaken up but always, always moving forward? And what if we sat up in our seats, throwing our hands in the air, laughing into the wind rushing by and enjoyed the ride?

Let's don those reading glasses with pride as we open our books and read into the next chapters of our life, learning, growing, doing, and becoming...always, always becoming until our eyes close on that very last day. Because this is what life is, every moment of it; one long ride of becoming, one long learning, one long growing. And those decade markers? They're just the waypoints to mark our journey, never the end of the ride.

Photo by Dave Campbell via Flickr

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