Years ago, I had to browbeat my husband into admitting he might possibly be middleaged. When he turned 50, as I recall, he grudgingly stated he was now in his middle years. Since women are more reality-based, I’d already been referring to myself as middleaged for a good four or five years.
Our then-teenage kids howled when I told them the story. “You’re middleaged when you’re thirty,” they announced. (I once recounted this to some younger people I worked with. You’ve never seen more crestfallen thirty-something faces in your life than I did when I got to the punchline; nobody but me was amused.)
But anyway, my husband just had a birthday and, over lunch, alarmed me with some breaking news. “We’re 59,” he said. “You know what? We’re not middleaged any longer.”
I almost choked on my salmon when he said that. So much for being reality-based. “We’re not?” I asked, aghast. “Then — what are we?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know.”
We halfheartedly went through a few options. Young-old or old-young, say. Twenty years ago, we would have been drinking wine at his birthday lunch, which would have helped our creative problem-solving abilities; today, we were guzzling Diet Coke and ice tea. Like the topic at hand wasn’t sobering enough.
It’s odd because, even though it absolutely killed me the first time I ordered senior tickets at the movies, I’ve now embraced it and live in fear of paying full fare. Also, I completely reject all this bogus chatter about 60 being the new 30. Give me a break from these kinds of Baby Boomer delusional notions. Some days, when I get out of bed, it occurs to me that almost-60 is the new almost-90.
“Wouldn’t you like — for just one day — to recall what it felt like to be really young?” I asked my friend Lynn recently. “You know, when you didn’t have any aches or pains and you had a lot of energy.”
She recalled a day 20 or so years back when she raced up the steps at the state capitol, beating everyone else by a minute or two, feeling invigorated — and, sure, a little smug — as she watched the rest of them slowly traipse up the stairs. A nice memory and all that, but let’s face it: Lynn and I are now the stair-traipsers.
Then I think of the scene in the novel Olive Kitteridge, where the main character, now in her seventies and mourning the recent death of her husband, thinks back to a similarly energetic, lighthearted and happy time. When she and her husband were in their fifties, she recalls, they didn’t know that they were still in the thick of life, busy and active and untouched by much loss or pain. They didn’t know and they failed to appreciate it.
Oh, yes. The thick of life. The good old days that we’re living right now. Right offhand, I can’t think of a more appropriate name for it.
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)