Monday, January 12, 2004

thoughtlife: age

Up to now, I still do a doubletake when I think about how old I am.

Growing up, the passage of the years in terms of age didn't mean much after certain milestones where reached - 18, 21 and 30. 18 because it meant adulthood in terms of legalese (even if mentally I was an adult earlier), 21 because it was doubly more adult than 18, dispensing with the "teen" suffix, and 30 because once you hit 30 there is truly no more pretending to be anything but an adult.

At each milestone point, the "boy" appellation gave way to "man", "young" or otherwise. And society opened up to accomodate the perceived nomenclature.

Age gives more confidence (though that virtue was never truly lacking in me), more responsibility (marriage, business ownership, fatherhood), more proficiencies (expansion of personal skill sets, knowledge and dynamic blah-blah), more personal value (people wanting me as a partner to begin new business ventures, for example), more direct experiences (as opposed to vicarious experiences, though both are fodder for writing), more, more, more of everything.

But age also gives increased awareness of what life is about: how preciously short it is, how we try to create more fulfilling opportunities, how important it is to leave something behind when the time comes to pass on (something more worthwhile than a small fortune), how words affect change, how ideals we would have died for in our zealous youth have become muted in favor of what is more accessible and realistic, how the art of the compromise pervades the multiple circles we walk in, how important it is to appreciate "the now" rather than entertain the hope for something better tomorrow.

Glory becomes less vital. After a certain point, awards, publications, recognition, praise and portfolio become dispensible things - good to have, but certainly not necessary. Not like before, in youth, when acclaim was paramount, and proving one's self to world occupied almost every waking moment. Instead, a relative quietude takes place, not a signal defeat or retirement from the struggle to create (and not something akin to malaise) but a more generous acceptance of the way of the world.

Creation acquires new depths of meaning. As young people, we would create for the sake of creating, unleashing a torrent of madness, so strong and so pure and so bereft of meaning. But passionate and perhaps even beautiful. With age, creation is influenced by a degree of maturity, a less arrogant agenda, an understanding of perspective and the distinct bittersweetness of time. But still passionate and still beautiful. Perhaps even more so.

With the expanding nature of our world of experiences, we begin to contract into tighter circles of comfort. We begin to think that maybe the definition of happiness is to be content with what we have, rather than getting what we want. We learn that things move on, even if we want to stay in one place forever - our hearts either learn to forgive and accept that flaws will always be present, or our hearts harden and leave people along the wayside, along with any regret of what-could-have-been. With the easy availability of knowledge, we become more introspective. We decide that it is better to know more and more about less and less, and we are struck by the epiphany that we struggle to know everything about nothing. But we consider ourselves better for it.

With the terrible acceptance of our future deaths, we learn to appreciate history. When you are young and immortal, you think you have an infinite number of silver bullets, an infinite number of fields to trample with a corresponding infinite amount of wild oats to sow. With age, we sometimes frantically look back for lessons we can apply to our current circumstances. We learn to be selective in the battle we fight - the bullets, silver or otherwise, have lost the virtue of the infinite, and the fields we walk are demarcated with a thousand thousand lines of ownership, all previously invisible. History and perspective become essential to creating plans and understanding what is happening.

Does age lessen us? No, it improves us. But only if we refuse to give in to the stereotype. Why become bitter? Why what is the point of being angry as we grow older? Why give in to the implications of helplessness, reliance on other people or the adage that everything must end in tears?

There are things our age allows us that mad youth can only dream of.

Our adroit reception of perspective affords us manifold advantages over those who can only look forward.

We cease to be too strongly bound to the ratrace of achievement and one-upsmanship since our sense of what is valuable has altered, compared to the young people who long for an impressive resume.

Our identity is more defined as we control the forces of fluidity - we can become what we choose to be, instead of searching breathlessly for who we are.

And we can look behind our backs and see youth careening inevitably along the paths we have already walked - and look forward to an evening's worth of conversation and good wine with them when they get here, in the place where we can talk to our parents and children as friends and boon companions.


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