One of the best things I enjoy about being 54 years old is that I’m moving out of my middle-life years and into seniority.
I am not afraid of old age. I am looking forward to it.
I had to start wearing glasses when I was 18. That was fine, my eyes needed them. My hair turned grey in my thirties, I started to go bald, and I embraced that, too. I have never used hair dye or tried to hide my scalp under a hat. I love the fact I don’t have to comb my hair so much!
Maybe my body is not as fit as it once was, but I’m not bad. When I was 49 I climbed the highest mountain in Africa. When I was 51 I walked the Kokoda track in Papua New Guinea, which is a gruelling physical challenge. I am 168cms tall and weight 60 kgs (for any Americans out there who have not yet gone metric, that’s 5 feet 6 inches and 132 pounds). I am fit enough for my age without getting silly about it.
But the best thing about getting older is time. I find the older I get the more time I have.
That may seem odd, given that every birthday I am another year closer to death. Shouldn’t I have less time? Shouldn’t I be running around (“like a chook with its head cut off” as my grandmother would have said) trying to cram in some sort of “bucket list?” Shouldn’t I be despairing the passing years?
I have no compulsion to make the rest of my time on Earth a mad dash for anything. I am not afraid of death. I have no belief in an after-life, I think that once you are dead, that’s it. Being dead is exactly like not having been born yet, and I wasn’t complaining then, so why start now? But I don’t fear death. When it happens, it happens. But I do know that I am not going to spend my remaining time alive regretting anything.
What I have found about getting older is that time slows down. I feel I have more time on my hands now to do things. As a teacher, I have had a lot of conversations with younger people, especially students. I have found teenagers, in particular, find it difficult to accept that when you get older, you have more time.
I think the reason is this: As you get older, you realise that some of the things you thought important no longer are. So you don’t have your days filled with unimportant things.
Maybe you are my age or older. Maybe you have paid off the house, or nearly so. Maybe the kids have grown up (finally!) and left the nest. Maybe you and your partner are thinking about retirement in a few years, and maybe you’ll go on that holiday you always talked about. Maybe these are important things to you.
I have found that I can now distinguish between what I need to do and what I think is important to do. And more and more, I realise that there are a lot of things I don’t need to do anymore. So I have fewer things to fill my day with, and time consequently seems to slow down.
I would try to tell you what you might find important as opposed to what is important. Everyone is different, everyone has different priorities. Perhaps your children have left home, but now they are bringing back grandchildren to show you and it’s important to you to be with them. That’s perfect. But maybe at the same time you realise that it isn’t so important to do other things that were once vital to you.
A lot of teenagers I know find having friends and being socially accepted is important. And it is. For them. But I have few friends now, which means I don’t have to constantly keep up and try to stay popular. The friends I do have are very solid and loyal. The ones that weren’t fell by the wayside. I don’t feel any compulsion to replace them.
We change as grow older. Priorities change as well. Some things, I have found, become less important or even unimportant. When I was a teenager or in my twenties, there were so many things I had to do. Now, there are not so many. Some I achieved, some I just decided I didn’t need to do. So I have more time to do the things I want. I can make a better job of them.
I have more time.
A past acquaintance of mine hated turning forty. She cried. I myself loved turning forty. For the first time in my life, I felt that I owed no one anything, that no one could tell me what to do (or, to be more accurate, I didn’t feel compelled to listen to what people told me I should be doing). When I turned fifty, it was a bit anti-climactic. I was perhaps expecting some sort of divine wisdom or insight to suddenly kick in because I had passed the “Big 5-O”, the half-century. But it didn’t. But fifty was good too, and I have sixty to look forward to.
Sure, the kids these days don’t understand. How can I have more time as I get older? But they will get it one day. There will be a wonderful time when they realise (some of them, at least) that there are more important things they could be doing with themselves.
And hopefully, they will set out to do them.
Age is a wonderful thing. I embrace it happily.