I am 46. That’s the kind of age that feels honestly a bit meaningless. Not young -far from young-but not necessarily old, yet. I still have most of my health intact, although there are some things I am reluctant to do these days; and my bones, joints, tendons, muscles, ache far more than I think is reasonable. My eyesight is poor. My hearing, patchy. And I am so, so tired so much of the time. But then again there’s nothing much I can’t do. I can walk (run-even), lift heavy weights, swim, climb stairs, cycle, travel, sleep in most beds without undue suffering.
So that is sort of what middle-life feels like. I probably have less in front of me than behind me, and that fact is not actually sickening. I don’t want it to be all over; far from it. But I do find myself wondering what “the rest” will look like. What do I actually went from the rest of my life?
Aging is a strange phenomenon. It happens to all of us - the lucky of us at any rate. But it seems also to be such a personal experience*. When I stop and take stock, as I am want to do on some occasions, I find myself struggling with the reflectiveness. Maybe I’m more of a forward looker than a past looker? Or, maybe, I’m simply one that just has profound difficulty being “ok” in the present. I’m rarely satisfied in whatever “now” is. The memory of the past always seems better, and the idea of the future seems always to be even more enticing. Though the truth is, at the age of 46 “the future” might well not be any better, worse, or different from “the now”.
(This is a bit waffly…. apologies. Then again one of the self imposed constraints of this exercise (see here) is to allow myself to flow, stream-of- consciousness style, without too much editorializing. So it is what it is)
OK, so honest reflection: what is life like at age 46? What is it like to have circumnavigated this globe forty-six times and to contemplate another forty odd (why not be optimistic?) of the same?
Honestly? In most things and in most ways, I am pretty happy with my life so far. I feel in some ways that I have “arrived” in my 40s, in ways that completely eluded me in my 20s and 30s (I’m not even going to ponder the mess that I was in my teens). I have found a stability and a rhythm that is both sustainable and enjoyable. I like my work, but it doesn’t take too much from me. I like my home, but I am not so desperately enamoured with it that I could never leave. I love my little family - a good man and three terrific cats - and I enjoy spending my time in their collective company. I like being part of larger families, in Canada, the UK, and Australia. I don’t feel like I’m tied to anywhere, or anything, or even anybody. That has been the one constant in my inconstant life, and I’m used to it now.
Maybe the thing is, simply, at this point, I look at what I have - whether by effort or luck or a combination thereof - and I feel contented. Which is great! Lovely! Don’t misunderstand me! I honestly recognize the immense good fortune in what I have. And - really- there should be no “but” that comes after. But I am human and so I think there will always be some kind of “but”, otherwise what is the point of existence?
(And yes, we will get into that. And yes, a state of neither desire nor aversion can be thought of as bliss or nirvana or enlightenment, and so who the heck am I to be searching for a “but”? And yet here we are…)
But what, then, of the next forty? There are no children by whom to set the pace of life. There are families for whom we are, both (he and I), the peripheral Aunt and Uncle. We are important, but not essential. There are parents who are aging in seriousness, but who are also self-sufficient and more centered in the orbits of their grand children. So there are no particular family bonds of requirement there, more family bonds of possibility and the perennial hope that travel continues possible, convenient and inexpensive.
There are careers, or whatever one calls our current exchange of effort for salary, and we are both doing fine in that regard; but (and I can say this quite certainly), neither of us would stick with it if there were to be a marvellous influx of revenue that did not require us to maintain the daily grind. There’s a lovely home in an agreeable city, but there are other homes in other cities that might also be agreeable or even lovely.
So I guess where I’m at is a reckoning with what is, and what will likely continue apace, notwithstanding a delightful financial windfall some how. But then I am also looking out ten years and seeing that this phase of life could easily end there (my pension being what it is) and wondering - well, what then? And I just don’t know. And perhaps I’m not meant to know- lots can happen in ten years. But all the same, time passes on and I would like to be ready for it.
Maybe that is the thing about aging. At every point one is wondering if one is “doing life right”, and “am I where I am meant to be?” Until such time as one feels quite confident saying one is where one is meant to be - and that maybe comes simply because one has reached a level of maturity that one really understands that one can only be exactly where one is. And then the inevitable question becomes” well! where am I going to go next?” And that’s where I am even as I age in this place with my very nice thank you life as it is.
So as I embark on the second half … I just don’t know. But aging is what it is, so I might just have no choice but to climb aboard the meat sack known as catyshark and see where it goes.
*Which is actually the point of this series of essays: what does it all mean? More here.