As a younger person, my observation was always that older people were curmudgeons; cranky and inflexible. To me, they lacked the beguilement and wonder of my generation. I saw this as an irritating feature of this group of people, and asked myself why they didn’t share in my own open-minded culture. Seeing it as something that was characteristic of “them” made it easier to accept that this brand of cynicism would not happen to me. I would never become “set in my ways.” Having seen what became of people who were, I felt cocky that the inevitability of this fate would never come to pass. I wouldn’t become one of them, no fucking way.
Time has dealt me a cruel blow. Much as I hate to admit it, I am beginning to be set in my ways. Years of experience have formulated my opinions on such things as waiting in traffic, the high price of travel and the skimpiness of clothes on today’s young women. Politicians are too jaded. Movies are too violent. Kids are too spoiled. These are actual thoughts I have had recently, and it scares the shit out of me. Being judge-y is not in my character and when thoughts of this nature appear and reappear, it is striking to say the least. I was going to be impervious to age, always keeping up with trends and relishing free thinking! A goddamn goddess of change and compromise! My ideas would continue to be unspoiled not by years of disappointment in how things were, but instead, energized by pure possibility! And then, eventually, you get screwed. No one wants to lose the ability to see the world through a free thinking lens. But no one wants to sit in the middle seat on an airplane, either.
As you get older, you start to see things less out of possibility and more out of practicality. You figure out what it is that you don’t really like or want in your life as a result of having gone through it in the past. You know that there are all kinds of cool new artists out there, but you still love to listen to Tom Petty. You know that change comes slowly, but the chaos and gridlock in government have turned you sour. You know that taking a class will be really good for you, but you bristle at the cost and inconvenience. You want to jump in the lake, but don’t want to get wet. You want to learn how to snowboard, but can’t be bothered with the cold. Maybe these aren’t all directly relevant to your life, but this is what happens. The head knows what it likes. That’s why I want to listen to my heart.
When I think of someone I’d like to age into, I think of someone I know named Nancee. Nancee is 70, 23 years older than me. She has opinions, she’s doesn’t get pushed around. But she retains a sense of wonder that is truly remarkable. She takes dance classes with girls 30 years younger. She asks for other people’s opinions. And then she listens. In a culture of “us vs. them,” she is open to new ideas. She has friends of all shapes, sizes, religions and political persuasions. She hugs and kisses her husband while pinching his ass. She curses in ways that would make some folks’ hair stand on end. But she also prays vigorously. She is in pain most days from arthritis, but you’d never know it. She doesn’t have much money, her home is small, but she lives big. While I realize we can’t all be Nancee, and that I might never be, I relish her abandon. She is her own person. She hasn’t created a small, safe box around herself. On the contrary, her box is huge and her heart is limitless.
Now I know that our experiences don’t always jade us, they often serve us. Just because I want to see the world anew sometimes doesn’t mean I’m going to love the idea of the guy my age who smells like vodka coming over and pick up my daughter. Hell, no. Keeping your sense of openness in the face of reality is a challenge, one that I don’t think those in the thick of middle age (or young middle age in my case) get enough credit for handling. It can be a bitch to reconcile it all.
So here I am, 47 years of voices informing me to not listen, not to get involved and to say no. But I know better! Deep inside there is a kid who thought there was no line too long to get a ticket (and no price too high) for my favorite band’s upcoming show. A kid who didn’t care that falling and getting hurt was part of learning how to roller skate. Who didn’t instantly judge. Who didn’t lose her shit when someone doesn’t replace the toilet paper roll. I wouldn’t trade my sorrows and regrets for anything, but I do wish I could turn back time and regain a fraction of the sheer hope and optimism my daughters possess.
For now, I’m going to pay attention to my kids’ music. Force my brain to learn tough new things (on my list: programming, sewing and constructing a drip irrigation system). Ask questions. Listen. Listen. Listen. My goal is to not be predictable. To filter myself not based on what I don’t like, but on the very best things about me. Because I know one day I’ll be sitting in the middle seat of an airplane, on a tarmac, next to a person who won’t stop talking, before a long flight. And at that moment, on this journey, I want to be open.
To all the ways.
photo by Barbara Paulsen at tandemechoes.com. Go check it out.