When I was about six years old, I had a best friend named Cathy who told me her mother’s birthday was coming up. Like any six-year-old, I loved birthdays, so this was exciting news. Yay! Will there be cake? I was also very interested in ages – being younger than most of my friends, numbers were important to me. How old would her mom be?
Cathy told me Mom was turning 21.
Even at age six, I could do the math: my own mother was 40, my oldest sister just a few years short of 21 herself. I told Cathy she must be wrong, but she insisted, hands on hips, indignant with six-year-old confidence, that her mother would be 21. I left her more than a little confused.
Now I am older than everyone in this story. Now, I get it.
I still love birthdays, and celebrated mine with gusto this week. Hooray! Another year! It’s all about me!
But not everyone feels this way. I have one friend who marked a significant decade in his life earlier this year, and didn’t want it discussed at all. Not even over cake! He wants to “youth” instead of “age,” so when he turned 50, he started counting backwards. I am beginning to understand why.
While I have always pooh-poohed women who lie about their age for reasons of vanity (people, I imagine, like Cathy’s mom), there are other reasons to play with our concept of age.
Imagining myself a decade younger makes me feel younger. Me at age 23 feels more energetic and open to fun, new possibilities. Me at 23 helps me forget that packing in too many activities in one day is impractical, baking cookies at 11 p.m. is indulgent, staying up late at night listening to a live blues band will make me tired in the morning. Who cares? Just do it! It’ll be fine!
Thinking about myself as young, sashaying down city streets with a spring in my step while at the same time thinking about how great it is to be 53 (yes, my real age), with all the knowledge and life experience that implies – that’s the best of both worlds.
Let’s remove those harnesses of practicality and habit that somehow attach themselves to middle aged people. Aging people of the world unite! Break out of your ruts! You have nothing to lose but your chains!
Actually, I am surrounded by people of all ages doing all kinds of creative and engaging things with their lives. I have lots of models to emulate. But there is still this pesky pull toward inertia. Thinking about my youthful self helps me get up off the couch and resist it.
A couple of weeks ago I was inspired by Cheryl Strayed, whose book “Wild,” about her hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, was recently released as a movie. I love hiking! I could do that! I started to consider a trip of my own along the Appalachian Trail – and remembered a friend who celebrated her 65th birthday with a weeks-long trek in the mountains of Italy. Then, instead of hiking my usual trails in Sligo Creek Park, just down the street from my house, I drove a half hour to hit the Billy Goat Trail, a more rugged and often stunning stretch of woods and rock outcroppings along the Potomac River. “Put yourself in the way of beauty,” Strayed wrote. So I did.
Because I am young.