I’ve thought a fair amount about what it means to be “middle aged” in the last couple of years; my 40th birthday was just over a year and a half ago. I’ve begun to notice new things about myself and my environment, things like:
- How much less likely it has become that I’ll be the youngest person at a professional gathering, as was the case for many years.
- A reaction to professionals younger than me which might fall anywhere on a spectrum to the kind of awe I feel at someone who can solve a Rubik’s Cube to the kind of joy I feel when I turn a corner on a trail only to find an adorable puppy pulling at a leash as it heads my way.
- An exhaustion with the self-critical parts of myself and a growing amount of self-acceptance.
- More grey in my hair, more smile lines around my eyes, more discoloration of my skin, and a perpetually renewing commitment to myself to resist not one iota of it.
As I write that last bit, I hear a chorus pop up in my mind, people older than me insisting that I’m still a mere babe, people younger than me trying to reassure me that they never would have guessed I’m over 40, and the hint of a cynical oh sure, you feel that way now but just wait…
I am open to the idea that there will come a day when my birth year is distant enough that I’ll start feeling some discomfort around it – no telling what the future might bring – but that day has not yet come. With a mother who exemplifies grace, vivacity, and beauty throughout the decades, there’s little for me to anticipate with trepidation.
That others can’t will themselves a mother like mine, well, I am sorry about that. I have another set of influencers, though, who everyone has access to – or, at least, to the same idea. They are a multi-generational array of friends and acquaintances.
From friends still kicking around their 20s and working their way through their 30s, to an array exemplifying awesomeness in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and even 80s, I’m surrounded by individuals whose variety of birth dates are irrelevant to our connection and all of the accompanying conversation, laughter, and mutual appreciation. I suspect that my friendly relationships are rare on that account.
You tell me, though: Are there people in your life with whom you have meaningful conversations who are grouped into a different generation than yours? Much (good stuff) has been made in recent years of the value of talking across political lines; crossing the generational divides offers just as much meaning and value, including the value of quietly challenging any stereotypes or biases we might hold about people of certain ages.
So what does it mean to me to be categorized as middle aged? Other than the excitement I feel at being toward the end of my menstrual years, it feels mostly imaginary. The suggestion that I’m roughly at the halfway point when many women in my family have lived well into their 90s seems shortsighted, as does the presumption that disease or discord won’t snuff me out sooner.
That I feel more self-assured, more wise, more packed with potential than I ever have before doesn’t so much feel like a milestone to me but rather progress, a step on a path that I hope and expect to be walking until that last day, whenever that might be.
And you? What does being your age feel like to you? Are there shoulds or gremlins taking away some of your pleasure of what your years have earned you?
The title of this post is a riff off of a wonderful essay by Zora Neale Hurston, one of my all-time favorite writers, called How It Feels to Be Colored Me. Click through; it’s a wonderful read. (The essay is just four pages long; the rest is didactics.)