I could not remember being this out of breath after only 30 minutes on the Stairmaster while myself and the water cooler looked an ocean apart. With very little cartilage left in my knees I felt it necessary to spread my arms out to grab a hold of the two stair case rails to swing my way down over the steps and on to the workout floor. As I took my awkward strides toward the far away oasis, I could overhear a conversation between two young men who were between sets of lifting heavy iron. “The other day I was working out with this real old guy who was trying to keep up with me. I told him to take it easy-muscles don’t recover as quickly at his age.” His companion replied, “I don’t work out with old people, I’m afraid they’ll have a heart attack.” “Yeah and this guy was ancient, had to be 45.”
Those words, not verbatim, hit me hard in a place only relatable to a person who has lived a half of a century. I have had my discommoding times, good and bad, about growing older and the aging process but this moment sent my brain into a swirling twister that did damage to my well-being. On January 31, 2015, I turn 55 years old and have a mixed bags of sensitivities that are going along with this milestone. They start with the positive: You don’t look that old. The 50’s are the new 40’s. It only matters how old you feel and act. In my own head I rationalize that I have outlived many of my contemporaries. When I was in my 20’s I didn’t even believe that I would live this long. I love life and now more than ever I yearn for longevity. I am cognizant of the fact that I have many challenges ahead and much to look forward to. “Age is just a number,” I hear time and again. “Age is just a number.”
The other half of my brain envisions an hour glass with rapidly moving, diminishing sand. That side keeps repeating to me that age is much more than a number. Seventy five percent of the population is younger than me. Less than one percent of today’s population make it to 90. As I turn 55, I am thankful the years have been kind to me. Just like those young men in the gym, when I was in my 20’s, 45 was old, and 55 was prehistoric. I am practical enough to conclude that there is less time not more. I have so much more I want to do and see that it would be unwise to believe time is on my side. As I approach the double 5’s, the emotional angst is far beyond the physical maladies that go along with that number. I continually search for the fountain of youth. When I look in the mirror, it is obvious to me that there is not enough magic water in the well to bring back my prime years. Crow’s feet, sun spots, wrinkles, and hair growing in areas that does not grow on younger people is my stark reality. I am plagued with the curse of vanity, still, I must accept that I am a man in his 50’s, and I look the part.
On the occasions that I get past the shallowness of my appearance, I begin to examine the fibers of my life. I am a big believer that life is short and we are not in a dress rehearsal. I have gotten wise enough to grasp that I will never find all of the answers but the search for them is the true high. In the end, I don’t want to leave anything on the table whether it be money, good times, opportunities, or my quest for knowledge. Fortunately at some point earlier in my life I decided I wanted to be something more than a jock and a good time Charlie. I want to explore myself and try to tap into that deep well of potential we all possess. At some point I did think ahead of what it would be like to be 55 and older. I figured out back then that I didn’t want to be looking back at a past of scorched earth.
Since turning 50, I take a personal inventory on a regular basis. I want to evaluate myself and try very hard to be honest with myself in regards to the expectations I had set as a young man. I have never worried about judgment from a God or any living person who enjoys life acting as a moral compass. The juror always come from within each individual and the only goal is for self accountability and improvement moving forward. Luckily what I’ve done with my time has been solely up to me. I’m comfortable taking responsibility for the mistakes I have made along the way, the people that I have hurt, and some opportunities that I have missed. I’m aware that I’ve had many allies who have helped me accomplish some good things and a set of parents who provided me the avenues to be and do whatever I want.
As Saturday approached, I have a dichotomy of emotions. At my core, I want to fight the inevitable; I want so badly to beat back Old Man Time. It is obvious that only those who die young, stay forever young. The rest of us have to wrestle with the aging process and eventually fall victim to the Grim Reaper. I don’t believe in an afterlife or any kind of day of reckoning. My mom would always tell me, “Life is for the living” and those words have always resonated with me. I want to be the best that I can be everyday to the people who love me and to the people I love and to do that effectively, I have to love myself.
If age is just a number, come Saturday those digits say I have lived 55 years. For the first time since I was in my 20’s, I am looking at my life with a selfish perspective and am keenly aware that I am at a crossroads. My children will both be far away from home next year and my 20 year commitment of day-to-day parenting is done. I am in the second year of owning my own business which keeps me prosperous and gives me control of my itinerary. I have discovered new passions in literate and in creative writing. I hope I can use the lessons of my past disappointments to make the rest of my life happier and more peaceful. I have been dealt a very strong hand and I am appreciative. I see an opportunity to plunge freely, and of clear conscience, into the huge world in front of me. The life I have chosen has no formal retirement, just chaotic and exciting ventures in both business and pleasure. Although at heart I am a pragmatist, I do dream that I really am Benjamin Button. Hopefully I am still growing, still learning, and still evolving. I see a bright future of grandchildren, sunsets on the beach, winters in the sun, more writing, and more published books. Life is for the living and I am 55 years old. I am not out of breath and have lots more living to do.