NOTICE: OBJECTS IN MY BATHROOM MIRROR FEEL YOUNGER THAN THEY APPEAR
I’m trying to deal with the daily shock and dismay of encountering my mirror going “Nyah, nyah!” at me in the morning.
I wonder if there’s a way to turn time around, or turn the tables on it, ‘til it’s on my side.
For if every day I look at myself from the perspective of watching my youth rapidly draining from my face — like so many grains of sand through the hour glass – then time is definitely working agin’ me.
Which brings me to the old Stones song, Time Is On My Side. This concept stayed with me, and has helped me negotiate my life at two crucial junctures: In my early twenties, and now.
When I was going through a crisis at 23, feeling lost and “old” (imagine!) I one day realized it was because I had been unconsciously still thinking of myself as a kid. Here I was, over the hill at 23, as an old kid.
When I faced the truth – that I was no longer a kid at all – I could come to grips with the fact that I was a man…a young man. Still lost, perhaps, but suddenly someone who had time on his side, for I had time to be a young man, and time to become fully-grown.
Now again, at sixty, I face a similar dilemma. I’m no longer a young man, and not middle aged either! (I got shocked out of that one 5 years ago when I someone said to me, “You can only call yourself ‘middle aged’ at 55 if you expect to actually live to be 110!”). I feel like I’m being dragged, kicking and screaming, from any last semblance of youth, and taken hostage (an interesting word if you look at it) on a runaway train. I can try to jump off, but I’ll only look wounded, like a man with a comb-over. Now, time is definitely not on my side; it’s working against me.
At least, that is, until I stop kicking and screaming, stand up, brush myself off, and face it. It’s like the name of that book on Buddhist philosophy, When You’re Falling, Dive. Face it all: the face, the body, the truth. I don’t have to like all I see, but if I can accept it, I can begin to regain my dignity. This changes my status from a hostage on this train, to a passenger, one who can take his seat and appreciate the view. Instead of age having me, I can look in the mirror and admit it: I have aged.
So now I’m old – but a young old. If I can expect to live to 80 or 85, say, then 60 doesn’t look all that bad. My last 25 years were incredibly full and rich: You mean I might have (God willing) another quarter of a century coming to me? There’s no reason it can’t be as full. Oh yes, I may slowly lose my physical well being, but you know what? There were many times during the past 25 years I lost my mental well being because I lacked the wisdom that I have now.
And with time on my side once again, I can know this: Facing my age, I can choose to act it…or not. (Face it: “acting your age” is an act). If I decide to go with my wife to a water park, and scream my bloody head off as I shoot down the tallest slide — “Hey! Look at the old people! Are they alright?!” — it’s not because I’m in denial and trying to be a kid again. It’s because I’m an old man whose life is his own, and he knows how to live it. I’m acting out of joy, and existential choice, instead of fear of what others may think — a fear which is, by the way, a sure sign of immaturity. In this way, instead of futilely trying to be a kid again, I’m a senior survivor who determines for himself how a man my age can act.
And if this train I’m riding is inexorably headed to the end of the line, I can still choose to savor my meals, start terrific conversations with my fellow passengers, and even petition the Conductor about which track to take.
I’m no longer cringing in the caboose. And when that Time-Is-On-My-Side song comes on the radio, I can sing along with Mick.
Or was it Mitch? I forget.