Friday, July 19, 2013

Coming of age

We have no preparation for getting old: We’re always young and then suddenly we’re not.  There’s some psychological way in which we identify ‘old‘ as ‘other’.  

And then there’s that shocking moment when we realize that we have crossed over, we are perceived as ‘other’ by all those young people who can’t imagine they will ever reach our age. 

   -- Jennifer Egan, Studio 54

I’ve never felt ‘Old’.  I have my health and energy, my parents are still alive, my children are grown but I‘m not a grandparent.  While  friends prepared for retirement, I leaned into life.  I’m only as old as I feel:  ‘forever young.

But, as Egan notes, events can quickly assert reality.  For  me, the question crystallized talking with colleagues last week.

The next ten years of your life could easily be the last ten years of your life.

How do you want to spend that time?

I came to Europe in search of new opportunities, a better life, a fresh start.  A positive vision, it offered scope for living remarkably, enhancing my work, my relationship, and my lifestyle.  And, over eight years, I achieved a lot of what I’d hoped for. 

But life has veered seriously off-track, and driving myself and others  along the same path won’t work, especially as my 60’s horizon approaches.   How do I want to spend that time?  I’ve reached out to family and friends to talk, evenings of pub chats and flickering Skype conversations.  Personal essays by Oliver Saks, Matt Long, Elizabeth Spiers, Randy Pausch, Clayton Christiensen and others add perspective. 

And I’m coming to understand that I won’t be satisfied by attaining goals, gathering things around me, then withdrawing into retirement.   The important, lasting feelings will come, instead, from the journey:  the life I live, the people alongside me, and the stories and laughter that we share together. 

It’s “How we did things” rather than “What I did”.

In some ways, it feels like a classic ‘coming of age’ tale.  The literary genre  focuses on the transition from youth to adulthood, steeped in maturation, acculturation, loss of innocence, growth of wisdom and worldliness.  But those themes are equally relevant to a transition to becoming ‘older’.

As I have.

Ten years ago,  I turned to Europe in search of  the life I wanted.  

The next ten years must be spent living a life I can love and  share.

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