by guest blogger Renee James, humorist and blogger
I had a startling thought the other day.
I wondered if the time had come when I can no longer brood over my to-do list and shrug off thousands of undone tasks (and dreams) with my favorite catch-all phrase: “I’m pacing myself.” At this rate, if I go any slower, I’ll be standing still.
But age is a funny thing. I remember watching my dad and his high-school buddies at a picnic once as men in their 60s, laughing and telling stories of their youthful exploits, kidding each other and reveling in friendships that had endured for decades. I remember my husband motioning to me at the time and remarking, “Glory Days.” In Bruce’s words, “They’ll pass you by, in the wink of a young girl’s eye.” And the years did, but they were far from forgotten.
Thing is, I now get it. Decades do seem to speed by, and I’ve struggled to keep up, or at least stay within shouting distance of my life. The past few seem to have compressed into one 30-year stretch I call my thorfties (30s, 40s, and 50s). Sure, for many of us, there are anticipated (and wonderful) milestones that come along with those decades, but honestly, at a certain point, it’s all mostly a blur, right? Absent some watershed moments—good and bad—I’m not sure I could define the differences between how I felt at 31, 37, 42, 44, 50, and 55.
Then again, maybe I became a little more jaded as the years passed. Maybe slightly less naïve. A little less hopeful. More clear-headed about what I needed and what I wanted. More certain about how I could feel more at peace. At my best, I was aware of the miracles that surrounded me, mostly when I saw the faces of the people I loved most in the world. At my worst, I was bereft and doubtful about every single aspect of life. Maybe it’s as simple as this: I’m spending my thorfties growing up.
My sons have tried to explain something about how years and the passing of time are inversely proportional to your age. And how a 1-year-old, a 20-year-old and a 55-year-old all live the same 365 days each year, but of course the time will feel vastly different to each of them. Why? Because each passing year is proportionally shorter. Full disclosure: This is already way more math and logical thinking than I do in a typical decade, so I’ll offer this little graphic to illustrate it:
Each line represents an entire lifespan (so far), and each segment between the ends of it delineates one year.
|___________________________ | This is the lifespan of a 1-year-old: One year is 100 percent of life.
|_____________|_____________ | In the case of a 2-year-old, the years appear to be shorter, right? But now each one represents 50 percent of his or her life.
|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|_| And here we are at 20! Same 100 percent lifeline, but—wow—those years really look shorter, right? Imagine them at 40! And 70! They’re barely perceptible. I guess that makes sense—or it would if I were a lot smarter.
Let’s sum up. One year = 100 percent of a 1-year-old’s life. One year = 1.25 percent of an 80-year-old’s life. That means it has to feel less significant, right?
Or does it?
Accumulated experience and (please, dear God) accumulated wisdom have to count for something, no matter how quickly we flip that calendar. I think about that line from Robert Browning’s poem, “Confessions”: “How sad and bad and mad it was; but then: how it was sweet!”
Maybe the last best test of whether or not I’ve really, finally grown up is knowing that it no longer makes sense to reconcile my lofty goals, unrealized dreams, and delayed adventures by saying “I’m pacing myself.” Life may have been many, many things in those lightning-fast years, but in the end, no matter what’s lingering on the to-do list, maybe I’ll think, “how it was sweet!”
Hope so. Otherwise, I may have an awful lot to do in my sixenties.
Renee A. James works at Rodale Inc. and wrote an award-winning op-ed column for The Morning Call, the Allentown, Pennsylvania, newspaper, for almost 10 years. Her essays were included in the humor anthology, 101 Damnations: A Humorists’ Tour of Personal Hells (Thomas Dunne Books, 2002), and are also found online at Jewish World Review and The Daily Caller. She invites you to Like her Facebook page, where she celebrates—and broods about—life on a regular basis, mostly as a voice in the crowd that shouts, “Really? You’re kidding me, right?” (or wants to, anyway), and she welcomes your suggestions, comments, and feedback to the mix.