About four years ago we bought a weight machine, a home-gym thing. We bought the one I wanted because there were specific exercises I wanted it for. I’d recently been using it pretty consistently only to realize, I cannot use it anymore. As I’ve previously mentioned, I have arthritis. I also have degenerative disc disease in my neck. Sometimes when something is causing you pain, you can push beyond it, sometimes you have to, and it gets better. Sometimes that pain is your body telling you that it is time to stop. Repetitive stress injuries can be crippling. That doesn’t mean giving up. That doesn’t mean, “Oh, I can’t work out like this so I’m just going full couch potato.” But it means acceptance of some of the limitations that, for most of us, inevitably arrive with aging.
I have accepted my age.
In that, I’ve realized that in a lot of ways, a mid-life crisis is not only something of a denial about aging, but it is how we mourn the loss of our younger selves. I didn’t like being a kid. I couldn’t wait to be an adult. By the time I was in my early twenties I had shed any sentimental entanglements of youth. However, I found that with the deaths of my grandparents as I went into my late thirties and on into my forties, I felt once again drawn to things from my youth. At first, it seemed a nostalgiac kind of sentimental journey, but then even I realized that I couldn’t seem to break free of it.
You cannot force someone to “grow up.” You just can’t. It doesn’t work. The classic mid-life crisis is often portrayed as the stereotypical male who turns whatever age (35, 40, 50…) and starts dying his hair, gets the sports car, starts running around with women that are too young for him, and everyone says “Bob’s having a mid-life crisis. He’s running around making a fool of himself acting like he’s a teenager again.” But the fact of the matter is that such a crisis can manifest in a multitude of ways. I started collecting items, again, that I had collected in my youth. Eventually, I realized I was doing this because I hadn’t been ready to let go of them the first time. I’d been forced by circumstances throughout my younger years to let go of “things” that I didn’t necessarily want to let go of at the time. But then, like I said, I couldn’t seem to break free of it. Apparently, you cannot force yourself to heal whatever it is, or sometimes it isn’t even a matter of healing, apparently, you cannot force yourself to accept getting older or the loss of your younger self either. And you cannot force anyone else in that regard either, you cannot force other people to “Just grow up.” Oh, you can try, but ultimately it doesn’t work and actually ends up slowing things down. Some things just take time, as difficult and trying as that might be. I’ve heard people say things about whoever like, “He’s in denial about being fifty.” or “She can’t get away with that dress anymore. She’s in denial about being forty-five.” But I’ve realized that it’s just as much an issue of not wanting to let go of having been twenty-five. Not only a denial of being older, but not wanting to accept that one will never be young again. It is, in many ways, the way we bid farewell to our younger selves. And I think, perhaps, if you liked yourself as a person, or liked something about yourself or being you, saying “goodbye” to who you were and those times, is more difficult. Our own aging often also goes hand in hand with letting go of others, whether that means our own children leaving the nest and starting their own lives, or losing elderly loved ones, and that can all be a lot of letting go trying to happen at once. Because here’s the other thing about that, once a person does manage to let go of it, youth, it is gone for good and never coming back. And what will that even mean?
Obviously, I think there’s not a little fear in that for some people. It’s why some folks never move on from whatever it is, whether it’s an emotion, an event, a time in their life, modes of thinking, an actual place, whatever. Of course, that often keeps people from being in the present moment. If you spend too much time clinging to the past, you will begin to miss out on now. Though I still believe all things happen in their own time and in the time they’re meant to.
For me, it’s felt like having crossed a threshold, that I didn’t realize I was crossing. I think that’s likely part of why I completely shut down my webpage earlier this year, closed the door to my office, and took a long break from even thinking about writing. (And honestly did not know if I would return to writing in any way.) It’s part of why sometime in the last year I got rid of a bunch of things I’d been carting around for decades, it felt like it was time to. Not long ago I realized that holding on to my “skinny clothes” wasn’t going to be a matter of being “skinny” again so much as it was going to be a matter of having aged, and that some of those clothes no longer suit me, no matter what size I am. In one moment, I’ve found myself on the other side of all the other lives I’ve lived in this one. I couldn’t go back even if I wanted to. Part of aging means learning to love the new version of yourself that emerges with it and from it. I don’t know if I’ll grow old gracefully, but I’m coming up on being fifty-two years old, and that’s just fine with me.