Monday, September 10, 2012

The Age of Old and Young

Despite the undeniable emergence of crow's feet and a graying beard, I still feel pretty damn young, and tend to act it as well. But am I, like many people, obsessed with youth?

Some people don't like talking about their age, and you really can't blame them. Age is one of those aspects of humanity that carries all manner of prejudicial thoughts, and crosses every other barrier of race, nationality, gender, and economic background. We tell people straight out to "act their age". We talk about "age appropriate" entertainment. We define and subdivide people's cultural activities and buying habits with age being the highest-level demographic category.

If you think you're immune to age-based prejudice, let me ask you a seemingly easy question: is it okay for a 61-year-old man to date a 23-year-old woman? Why, or why not? They're both adults, obviously. Would you think any less of either of them for making the choice to be involved with each other? Would you harbor any preconceptions about why they are attracted to each other in the first place? Most people would, and perhaps for valid reasons. Or perhaps not.

The Age of Variety
In any case, I'm at an age that seems to have a lot of variety. This morning, several of my friends on Facebook who are all within a couple years of my age -- 43 -- reported that their children are starting pre-school today. A few moments later, I stumbled across a photo of another friend sitting on a chair with her grandson on her knee, and she'd posted about her child having graduated from college this year. That woman is also about the same age as me.

So, the true concept of "middle age" (defined as the period beyond young adulthood but before the onset of old age, roughly age 40 to 60) really becomes apparent with these examples. The lifestyle of a person with a young child just starting school is obviously different than one whose children have grown and moved out on their own. And yet, they are the same age! "Middle" is a vague term, and it's a vague age, to be honest. There are few aspects of being middle-aged that are consistent from person to person. If you're going to have preconceptions, it would seem that it's much easier to predict what a person will be like in their youth and elderly years than in the time between.

Youth is for the Young
I really don't share that obsession with youth that pervades most of our society. If I look a little younger than my 43 years, it's due to a few factors that I didn't consciously attempt to control in order to appear younger than I am. My genetics are a big factor, obviously. But my relatively active lifestyle, my attempt to eat balanced nutrition, my getting plenty of sleep, and little factors like my style of dress are all things that probably help. The fact of the matter is that I don't do those things in an attempt to look young. I do them because they feel right for the person I am, whatever that means. If anything, I have habits like smoking which certainly don't help at all in looking young and fit.

But more importantly, I have managed to finally get past some of the built-in prejudice in regard to age. That has been a huge beneficial quality I seem to have acquired as I've grown older. I can relate to people 20 years older, and 20 years younger than me right now (though they may not be able to relate to each other at all). I can be friends with those people. I can hear their perspectives. I am still open minded enough to learn from them, and I do. All the time.

Back to my similarly-aged Facebook friends: in terms of one definable aspect of their lives, I am right in the middle. My child is 13, making me neither particularly young or old as a parent. And despite the similarity of my friends' ages to mine, I can no more conceive of having a toddler around right now than I can imagine waving goodbye as my son goes off to college. It is simply too far removed from my current perspective of helping him with pre-algebra homework, or getting him to clean his room. But in any case, all of our respectively disparate experiences are well in line with what middle-aged people do and feel. It's a wide range of daily joys and trials, and I'm fine with it. I'd no more want to reverse the clock than I would to speed it forward; there's so much to do and experience today that I'm content with being who I am now, regardless of my years.

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