What Does “Years Old” Mean, Anyway?

Back when I was young and foolish – like last week – “50 years old” sounded positively Methuselahian. Over the hill. Older than dirt.

“Fifty years old” sounds dinosaur-ish to a 25 year-old. Or even a 30 year-old. Or …. Well. You get my drift.

Now that I’m closing on my 60th birthday, however, “50 years old” looks mighty spry. In fact, if I’d known “mid life” could be this much fun, I would’ve done it a lot sooner.

Contrary to what Madison Avenue and Tinseltown would have us believe, midlife isn’t a synonym for “one foot in the grave” and the other on a banana peel. It may be a time of new freedom, exploration, and reflection.

Examples: I like the freedom of not having to scout out and screen a reliable baby-sitter every time Snuggle Bunny and I want to go somewhere. I like getting a full night’s sleep, uninterrupted. It’s also nice to not have to play chauffeur for every track meet, Little League game and practice and soccer match or school event that comes down the pike. Ditto having your adult children pick up their own tab for their auto insurance.

Sunggles and I have time to find new trails, venues, and interests. We’ve explored new horizons for community involvement and volunteer options. Our time is more flexible so we can explore more “spur of the moment” adventures in the Cascades or along the coast.

Lena Lake, Olympic National Forest

Midlife may also be a time for reflection. Looking back. Seeing an uptake in the number of names I recognize in the Obit section. High school classmates and even some college chums sometimes make it in there.

I read their names and the dates they passed away and am always taken by surprise. In my mind’s eye, I still see them as perennial teen-agers and young adults, ready to grab their diplomas and take on the world. Three or four decades later, they’re gone.

I keep waiting to wake up.

Then long-time friends post photos of themselves with their grown children and grand children on social media. And I think, When did that gray hair arrive? What’s up with those wrinkles? Do I look like that?

My mind drifts back to experiences, events and people of the past. Fishing the June Lake Loop. Horse back riding with Mom. Playing on my high school girl’s tennis team and running track. Staffing a summer camp in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. Family vacations in Yosemite and Grand Teton National Parks. Favorite college profs and classes. (As a member of the Class of ’82, it’s always a bit startling to notice the number of profs who have gone on to glory.)

Sometimes the wind shifts and I catch the sharp pungence of blue wood smoke hung out in rungs. My mind tip-toes back to summers in staff housing at Mount Rainier National Park in the 1960s. Or clouds dapple the landscape in such a way that a memory of a similar pattern from 40 years ago springs to life.

Reflection Lakes, Mount Rainier National Park. July 2018.

Sometimes opening the pages of a childhood story, the cinnamon-clove smell of fresh pumpkin pie, the opening scene from The Sound of Music, or hearing Andy Williams croon Moon River will take me back several decades in the blink of an eye.

Relatives, classmates, friends and colleagues I may not have seen in decades surface, rich memories pouring out of the past like butter off a hot skillet.

The feeling is wistful. Semi-sweet. Both happy and a little sad at the same time.  And I wonder:

How did the years pile up so fast? Where did the time go? What stories are behind the gray hair, what wisdom with the wrinkles? What does “years old” really mean? Does it mean anything?

My maternal and paternal grandparents died when I was young. Mom passed away in 1984. She was 54 years old. As I approached that milestone I thought, “What are the odds I’ll outlive Mom? By how much?”

I still miss her. But perhaps never more than on my 55th birthday.

Mom and Dad.

Dad passed away in 2003. Cancer got both of them. Both parents passed away before I got to know them much as an adult. That’s a different relational paradigm. Probably deeper and richer and more relaxed than the parent-child relationship of yester-year.

I missed out on that. I feel kind of gypped.

But then I remember how good it all was. And look ahead at how good “years bold” can be. (That’s not a typo.)

I’m still sorting this out. While I’m at, tell me:

Are your parents still alive?

Has your relationship with them changed? How?

To be continued…

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