There was a time during my 50s when, if I stood in exactly the right light, I could convince myself I was still young. Well, not exactly young, but not old. And really, if you’re in your 50s, you could count that as middle age, which is practically like being youthful. Even when I was 61 and 62, I was able to assure myself that I fell into a “not old” category. But, in less than two months, I will turn 65 and I’m afraid my fantasy about myself as a somewhat young person might have to come to an end.
Here’s the problem: when I’m just in my head, reading a book, talking to my friends, going for a run, or cooking dinner, I feel 25, or even younger. I am creative and inspired, excited about new ideas, interested in what is happening in the world. Inside my own mind, I am the same girl who was nervous about going to high school, scared about choosing a major in college, worried about finding someone to love, self-conscious on my first day as a public speaking teacher. In there, with those 65 years of experiences is also a still-somewhat-unformed kid, hoping to fill in some of the holes before someone realizes I know nothing.
And then, on some other level, in the most surreal way imaginable, I also feel as if I have somehow found the answer—that, for the most part, life is amazing, that it doesn’t really matter what other people think, that time is more important than money, that lying on my couch reading a good book is about as nice as anything I can imagine, and that I am the luckiest person in the world to be loved by the people in my life.
On the outside of all of this is a body that is only a memory of what it used to be. In the mirror, I am my mother, my cheeks sagging now, my eyelids drooping, my skin thin and unforgiving. Out for a very slow run, I see my profile as the sun slants behind me and creates my shadow on the sidewalk in front of me. There I am, my late father, the boxy shape of his shoulders, the square, serious jawline. I was 20 the year he was 65, so young I hadn't even considered being old. Though my future seemed distant and mysterious to me in those days, I could imagine only months ahead, mostly focused on the drama of relationships, women's rights protests, and losing weight.
The big dreamer is alive and
well inside me, more
clear-headed than ever before.
But, about to be 65, there is no more pretending that time will not turn against me or that there are more days ahead than there really are. I hope against hope for 30 more years, and think of how many things I might be able to fit into that short span of time. But what I don’t account for in those fantasies, of course, is the failing body, the weaker eyesight, the fact that I can hear my partner only if we are no more than one room apart. I feel my knees creak on my way upstairs at night and imagine that when we downsize a few years from now we will live on one floor.
In this odd way, I have come to a place where the internal me and the external me are not on the same train. Inside of me, I feel myself growing in a way that retirement and reinvention has heightened. I am out of the tiny box of work, the narrow space of paying bills and trying to stuff everything lovely into the hours between 5 and 10 p.m. My reveries now are focused on travel and creativity and philosophical meanderings I had no time for in the 30 years I spent working. And yet, on the outside is a body that is different from the one that could run a marathon. It is a physical framework not nearly as lenient as the one I inhabited even a decade ago.
As I consider this discrepancy, I see myself as having two directions in which to lean. I could give over to the power of the external without much trouble. It would take so little effort, really, to let my joints stiffen further, allow the growing flab surrounding my triceps to settle in comfortably. And, I could start scratching off even more things I feel too old for, besides training for another of those 26.2-mile runs.
But, as naïve as this might sound, I’m thinking about heading in the other direction, giving over to the internal voice, the one that says, “Buck the heck up, kiddo. Get to the gym, learn something new, take yourself outside as often as possible, travel someplace entirely new, consider some ideas you’ve been closed to for years.” The point is, the big dreamer is alive and well inside me, more clear-headed than ever before. I’m thinking of sticking with her, standing up to this body and keeping my legs strong, my heart open and healthy, my brain inspired.
I get it that mind over matter is one of those easier-said-than-done clichés, yet I can't help but think it's absolutely the only way I can remain as young as I feel inside at this moment.