The most interesting thing to me about getting older is the fact that my inner self does not age. I remember when I was younger, I always imagined getting older as becoming someone else. What will I be like when I’m 40? How will I be different? I’d look around at all the “old” people and try to imagine being one of them. It was always a sense of dread that accompanied the thought, that background fear of youth that we will lose our youthful desires, humor, outlook, passions, and become bogged down in a static 9-to-5 grind punctuated by weekend lawn mowing.
After all, we change so rapidly in youth, from child to adolescent to young adult. And with each age comes dramatic change in appearance, knowledge, experience, and world view. We “mature,” and with each of these early phases we seem to become a new person.
But then comes the time when we seem not to change much anymore. Physical appearance seems to stabilize, excepting the visible signs of aging – a few wrinkles, a little extra weight, a little less hair. But more amazingly, the person inside ceases dramatic change. We do not discover life as we did. We reach milestones and pass them, never to experience the “firsts” of youth again. We learn the basics of just about everything – politics, nature, geography, history, philosophy, art – and all subsequent learning is just so much augmentation or revision of what we already know.
Most odd, though, is this sense I have of being the same person, with the same hopes, dreams, fears, likes and dislikes, as the person who was me twenty years ago. Although young people seem to keep getting younger, I don’t feel any older. I know I am perceived differently by youth, and perhaps my wardrobe is a little less interesting than it used to be. But the me of my youth lives on inside this aging body, still hungry for experience, interested in new things, passionate for art and music, devoured by love, occasionally bored, puzzled about the future.
It’s as though I rode this rollercoaster of life change in youth, got off at age 21, and I’ve been walking around in the parking lot looking for my car ever since. But as soon as I find it, I’ll get going again.
So this weekend – June 7 – was my birthday. We had a fun barbecue with friends, I got some cool gifts and had a good time. Just like we always do. And I was a year older. Does it matter? Not as much as it used to.
Another key fact about aging is that although I feel like the same person I have always been since reaching adulthood, I thankfully have more to anchor my life and define my existence. I have the great gift of my family to remind me that the searching and yearning of youth can be answered at least for the most part by finding someone to build the rest of life with, and together to continually build life. To find someone to share life with can be, and is, more fruitful than to endlessly search for that someone. I repeat this truism because I believe our culture actively promulgates the opposite notion.
And I like what we’ve built so far. It is good. I’m ready for the next phase. I just won’t anticipate getting “older” anymore, because apparently, except for my skin and bones, it’s not going to happen.