Wednesday, February 02, 2005

You're only as old as you feel

Maybe so. Today I feel all of my 50 years. You can be bouncing right along, your internal age hovering somewhere around 35, when it happens. You bend over to pick something up and you can't make it back to a standing position. The pain that grabbed my back was swift and intense. It was all I could do to shift around and sit down, and I didn't accomplish that quietly.

But I'm tough, I said. After a few minutes I managed to make it back to my feet, gritted my teeth and went on to work. I lasted until 2:00 and headed home, my back twisted into a painful pretzel. Tuesday I stayed in bed. Every time I got up, my hip clicked audibly with each step. It may have been a pinched nerve and it may have been a slight dislocation of my hip joint. Whatever it was, it hurt like hell. Nature's way of reminding you that you're not a spring chicken anymore.

Wednesday, the third day after, my main complaint is an arthritic ache in my hip. By the end of the week I may be back to more or less normal. For a 50-year-old.

This aging thing sneaks up on you. I don't mind the "50" part. I've never had a problem with admitting my age. In ways, I’m actually enjoying the feeling of achieving middle age. Throughout my 20s, 30s and 40s, I seemed to constantly battle for acceptance and recognition in my work. Despite the achievements of women during the last 30 years, it is still an ongoing struggle to maintain a semblance of equality in a male-dominated workplace in the private sector. At this point in my life I’ve decided that I’ve either got respect or I’m never going to get it. It’s a big relief to sit back and enjoy the fruits of my past accomplishments and watch the younger folks scrabbling for a toehold in that rickety ladder of success. If they knew what I knew, they would stop battering their heads against brick walls and take up yoga. Unfortunately, you have to nurse a lot of bruises before you realize that life’s short and time lost flinging yourself against a brick wall is never going to be regained.

I can remember when I was about 9 years old calculating what my age would be when Halley’s comet came back around in 1986. At the time 32 seemed old beyond belief. For someone in the third grade, it seemed unfathomable that when Halley’s arrived I would be (a) done with school, (b) probably married with a passel of kids and (c) wrinkled with old age. I would never have guessed that I would hit 50 with school a distant memory, no marriage or kids in my past, a few wrinkles here and there but still holding up fairly well despite it all. The odd spell of back trouble notwithstanding. My inner 9-year-old would reel in disbelief, but I may very well decide to go back to school one of these days since I think I’ve finally figured out what my major should be. And it’s not Business Administration.

That’s one of the pleasures of hitting middle age. You finally begin to get a handle on who you are. And you make no apologies to anyone for who that person is. If you want to accept me as is, swell. Otherwise, the door’s thataway and don’t slam it behind you.

So, even with the creaky knee and hip joints, the eyes that won't focus on the small print, the extra 10 pounds around my middle, my thermostat that has gone completely haywire, and my sudden inability to eat spicy foods after 5PM without serious repercussions, I really don't have any desire to be 20 or even 30 again. I prefer the wisdom that comes with my present stage of life.

But I think I will try to be a little more careful of how I bend over to pick things up from now on.


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