To the stars on the wings of a pig
John Steinbeck so loved this phrase that every book he wrote was imprinted with this insignia. Kinda sums up how I used to view getting older: yeah, right, I’ll get old…when pigs fly.
And then suddenly one morning, my bacon came adorned with small white downy feathers. The realization that I had less years in front of me than I had in the past was both sobering and panic-inducing.
At 56, I am not merely middle-aged anymore, more like early old. (Too bad there isn’t a category of wine for that; “early old merlot” has a catchy lilt, don’t you think?) My generation cut its adolescent teeth on pronouncing the untrustfulness of decrepit deceitful old people over the age of 30. And here I am - 26 years past that channel buoy marker complete with most of my limbs in good working, albeit slightly deceitful, order. (Knocking my knuckles against my trustworthy wooden skull as I type this.)
Much to my unexpected joy, I don’t feel old on the inside. My dread of getting old from the perspective of a 20 year-old included a fear of mental infirmness; a debilitation of not only the physical self, but also the essence of my being. Quite the opposite has occurred; I feel much more in control of my life than I ever did in my twenties or even thirties.
I only thought I knew what liberation was during my pro-feminism years; getting older is the real secret ingredient to such emotional freedom and a potent addition to a fully baked life. You really can’t see the forest for the trees when you’re only a fourth of the way up the mountain, thus I intend to reach the summit for the best view.
There is something innately spiritual about aging, and I suppose old Meletus, the ancient Greek fanatical, would find disapproval, but I think Socrates got it right: finding your own inner god takes perseverance and guts, but the reward is immeasurable. (Luckily for me, I didn’t have to drink a poison to make this observation.)
I remember being surprised one family summer vacation when I was swimming in the warm gulf waters off of Galveston beach with my grandmother. The unexpectedness at her sudden spurt of sheer unabashed joy with each rolling wave caught me off guard; this wasn’t the woman I knew as my “old” grandmother who normally was full of bitter warnings about not touching her stuff or playing too loud on the piano in her front living room. Her laughter came deep and full-throated, her arms flew up and projected her into the oncoming surf with the vitality of an Olympic swimmer, and her salt and pepper carefully coifed hair clung in soft ringlets around her face. Her usual disdain for being out in the sun was quickly forgotten upon the first step into the frothy water. She will never know the lastingness of her gift to me that day; my preconceptions of both my grandmother as a person and of growing old changed forever. I treasure this self-awakening and the sweet memory.
I began my aging journey with trepidation, but with each passing year, my fears have become less, my quest for learning more intense. And with the passage of time, I have a sense of humbleness knowing that I will never answer my very last question, and an acceptance of wise Socrates’ pronouncement: “I know that I know nothing.”
**I'm trying to blog my way to the AARP Orlando@50 conference. This blog post is an entry in their competition to find the official blogger to travel to and cover the event. Find out more about the conference here.