Journal Gen X: Age is Just a Beautiful Number
When I was nine, I couldn’t wait to be 10. Turning the big double-digits was all I could think about for the six months before my birthday. When I turned ten, my Aunt Judee (Judee, my fairy godmother, blog) took me to get my ears pierced. Ten was awesome. I was older, and when you’re a kid, that’s what you want to be.
When I was 12, I couldn’t wait to be 13, because then I would be a teenager. I rolled that word around in my mind, thinking about all the magical things that would happen when the clock turned over to my special day.
Much to my surprise, magical things did not happen, at least not in the way I wanted them to. I was still insecure and felt out of place in my own body. Puberty dug in her heels for the next several years. Magic, yes. Fun, no. Awkwardness aside, there were still perks to becoming a teenager, although they were more intangible. Teens are part of a group. I had a tribe. Whether or not I felt a part of that tribe all the time was another story. But I was a member by virtue of my age.
When I was 15, I couldn’t wait to turn ‘sweet’ 16. That came and went without ceremony, then I couldn’t wait to turn 18, because I was officially an adult. I was no longer a child, even though there was so much left to figure out about myself and about life. I was an adult in age but still craved guidance. Eighteen was the magical year when I could leave the nest and go to college. Ah, college. The freedom, the independence. The fun, the friends, the memories.
Twenty-one is the big year when I could legally drink alcohol. So, I went to a bar and ordered a beer with my legal ID. I never had a fake ID. I’ve always looked a bit younger than I am (although that seems to go away in later years, hmm), so even when I was of legal age to drink, I was given the third degree for a couple of years. “What is your full name, birthdate,” and so on. And then, the twenties. The freedom, the independence, the belonging. To feel young, alive, invincible. The pure joy of being out of college and making your way as a real adult.
My thirties were in a word: incredible. I finally had a career, I got a master’s degree, I had figured out more about myself. I felt like I needed less guidance in everyday life. I found my best friend and we got married. I thought about age from time to time as I neared the end of my thirties, but it didn’t enter too much into my thoughts. I was still invincible.
Although I have such beautiful memories of those years, I wouldn’t relive them for anything. Because going back in time would mean risking a different outcome. And I can’t imagine never meeting my husband and not being able to build the life we have now. I can’t imagine being a different person, and not having the pleasure of interacting with so many kind, talented, and compassionate friends, co-workers and mentors over the years.
When I turned 40, I didn’t relish turning 41. This decade felt different, but mostly because of external signals we receive as we age. Articles about what clothing to wear/ not to wear, the proper length of one’s hair, the appropriate amount of makeup, and so much more, proliferate your reading nook when you turn 40. This content makes its way into your inbox, your browser, and your social channels. I had no idea 40 was so fraught with peril, because, aside from a few more aches and pains, it didn’t feel much different. But, I dutifully complained about having turned another year older. “Oh, what a bummer to be 42!” I exclaimed. The trouble with lamenting about my age, I began to realize, is that some don’t get that luxury.
While it’s human nature to struggle with aging and the invisible regulations society heaps upon us at each decade of our lives, I started to notice that as I grew older, some of my friends and colleagues didn’t. I’ve lost friends in their twenties, thirties, forties and beyond.
About a month ago, a healthcare colleague passed away from colon cancer. I had only worked with her for a short period of time, but she was the type of person you wanted to emulate. She became a casual mentor to me, and I would frequently approach problems I was facing by thinking about what she would do. She was generous, kind, smart, talented, and I could go on. She was beloved by many professionally and personally. She didn’t live to experience 45. I recently also lost a couple of close friends, one who was just over 50, and the other who didn’t make it to 50.
Losing these individuals within a rather short period of time made me think about how I personally approach aging. I realized that by complaining about each passing year, I was depriving myself of something that those I knew and loved wouldn’t get the opportunity to experience.
So, as I reflect on turning another year older, my thoughts will focus on celebrating rather than dreading it. Hopefully, I will turn 50 someday. Then 60, 70, and 80. Ninety would be interesting. I will embrace the aches, the wrinkles, the sagging that come with the gentle (and sometimes not-so-gentle) rolling of time. I will live each day intentionally, knowing that others won’t get the chance to live as many years as I have been given.