Thursday, July 2, 2009

How Old Am I?

My age has always been a little "off." Of course, there are those in my life who would say that many things about me are a little off. But I will admit to the age part.

My birthday is in April and as a youngster I ended up a grade ahead. So I was usually one to two years younger than my peers. I enjoyed that uniqueness most of the time, especially when I married a man from the class behind me who is actually older than I am.

But there were a few times it was inconvenient. For example, I turned sixteen (can we say driver's license?) near the end of my junior year of high school. For most of my high school years my mom took me to school or I rode the bus. Not fun. Then through my first year of college I had to make other plans when friends went clubbing and my age seventeen ID would not admit me.

I finished school, graduating with a Master's degree, got married and started my career a month after turning twenty-two.

When I began working full time there weren't many professional women in my field and being young was not an advantage. As props for seeming older I learned to drink black coffee and imply I was older than my chronological age. I don't know if the coffee drinking did the trick, but it all worked. In fact, when it somehow slipped that I was turning thirty, my boss demanded to see my driver's license because he was convinced I was lying about my age and had to be older than thirty.

In my early thirties I decided I would go by fives, always rounding up. It's just easier, plus when you do that people think you really look good for your age! Whenever the question of age came up, I would say thirty-five, or almost forty, or ...... There were a few years when I actually couldn't remember my "real" age, having to think back to my birth year and do the math. Right now I'm fifty-five.

Often when I meet or see an older person, I try to envision that person as he must have looked as a teenager or young adult. It's not hard. When you actually have an opportunity to look at old pictures of a friend or family member, you can usually recognize the person, even if the picture is from half a century ago. I have puzzled over what makes a person familiar over his life span. I think that, absent disease or debilitating life circumstance, a person chooses the age he is. Age is an attitude more than the numbering of days. Someone steps toward old age only when he sets aside the interests and passions of his youth without replacement.

Some people become old and insular with that first whiff of adult responsibility. Others stay engaged with the world to the end. I see a picture of my dad with his college classmates, or sitting on his horse at age sixteen, and I see the same earnest, young man with a zest for life that I see now. I see a school-age picture of my mom and I see the same determined, anxious young woman I see today, a woman reluctant to rest or sleep for fear she might miss something or run out of time to complete her ever growing agenda. My father-in-law was an engaging, handsome man well into his seventies. Then, with the onset of macular degeneration, he determined his functional life was over. He rapidly settled his affairs and declined, becoming an unrecognizable little old man waiting for time to expire. We started missing him well before his physical death last year.

There is a nationally televised talent show that allows contestants of all ages. This week there was a sixty-two year old dancer who walked on to the stage in her simple clothes and dancing shoes, with gray hair and deep circles under her eyes. The judges smirked. The lady left the stage, at the end of her dynamic, funky dance, with a standing ovation and a ticket to the next round. When interviewed, we find out she's a single mother working hours on her feet each day as a grocery store checker. The passion of her life is dancing. She works every day in her dancing shoes to remind herself that she is a dancer, not a store clerk. She spoke of this audition as one she had been preparing for her entire life. Another thirty-five year old contestant came on to the stage in his jeans, backwards cap and guitar. He spoke of his regular job on a chicken ranch and his inability to do simple math. The crowd guffawed at his country drawl and plain looks, loudly anticipating his quick exit from the stage. Twenty seconds into his performance the audience sat in stunned silence, mesmerized by the singer's heart piercing rendition of a country ballad. One of the judges said the singer could end up winning the competition. Afterwards, the emotional contestant spoke of the years spent singing and song writing, waiting for the opportunity to be heard. Both contestants are truly young.

I think of my father-in-law, before the end, as forty-two. My dad turns thirty-seven on his birthday each year. Next month will be the thirty-ninth celebration of his thirty-seventh birthday. My mom is twenty-eight.

Me? I'm twenty-five, just with a little more judgment and generosity, and a few more varicose veins.

How old are you?


Ricky said...

I really enjoy your writing and your thoughts. Even though I'm the one aging, you'll always be 20 to me. Keep writing!

Sherry said...

Thanks for the encouragement! I needed it. Keep it up.

Sherry said...

OK, I had tried to post longer responses about 5 times--but never got through. Now that my short note did, I'm going to try again with the longer. Kerry, you have the skills and soul of an essayist worth listening to: thanks for being generous enough with your time and thoughts to benefit your listeners. I agree with you about attitude and age, but I'm grateful for your reminder because lately my arthritis has yelled at me so loudly that I've started feeling older than I am. And I need to fight that harder. I can think of at least 2 times in the past that your words have helped me hugely--and I know that's going to happen again through your blog. Love!

Jennifer said...

I'm 23 and always will be... I'll be celebrating the 20th anniversary of my 23rd birthday in 25 more shopping days!

Wiley said...

i's confuseld

Allyson said...

I was about to write that I am 20, but then I had to stop and be honest with myself. I'm not as happy and carefree as I was at 20. I'm probably more like 25, but I think I'm going to try to be younger for the rest of my 40+ years. I've only celebrated my 25th birthday 22 times and I plan on being at least 92. btw...Ricky's response made me cry.