The milestone birthdays come packaged with a DVD of mandatory retrospective. The more advanced the age, the more maudlin the video. Up until now, I’ve studiously avoided the one that came with my big 5-0 last July. A couple of things have happened over the last week to inspire me to finally crack open the jewel case and take a cautious peek at what’s inside.
First of all, I got a chain e-mail which casually mentioned that most people get about 75 years out of life. (This was certainly originated by someone under forty.) But, I have to admit, it sounds reasonable. My own dad died at 79. Mom is still hanging in there at 83, but there’s a world of difference between living and just being alive. My sister died at 48. Hmmmm…maybe I don’t want to add her into the family death lottery; if Mom died today, that would drag the average life span down to seventy.
Mom will just have to live to be 98 in order to restore the balance.
And no one else can die for at least twenty years.
Ah…there is just a tiny sample of the higher mathematics at which people my age suddenly become proficient…
Okay…75 years. That used to be unthinkably far away. Seventy-five was as unimaginable to me, even at forty, as the fact that I would be forty-five in "The Year Two Thousand" seemed to me when I was ten. (Didn’t all school kids of the sixties sit around and calculate how old they would be at the turn of the century?) In the space of one high-speed decade, I went from still having half my life to look forward to, to realizing that 2/3 of that same life has already passed under the bridge.
Ten years ago, when I looked back 25 years, the picture—of a fifteen-year-old hippie in raggedy bell-bottoms that dragged on the ground, holey moccasins and a fringed leather jacket—at least had a misty quality of nostalgia about it. In 1996, in my big shirt, lycra leggings, and Nikes, I could look at that old, creased instamatic photo and say, "Wow! Wasn’t that a lifetime ago!"
But, 1981? I was already an adult. I had a husband and a mortgage, two car payments and a houseful of pets. Not so terribly different from what I am now. In fact, the object obtained with one of those two sets of car payments is currently sitting in my driveway. The last 25 years, with their victories and defeats, spotlight moments and deep shadows, moves, loves, lessons and losses, have just been like…stuffing added to a finished pillow. Unremarkable, in many ways, from the previous stuffing, waiting to be covered up and tamped down by the stuffing yet to come. I liked it much better when I could look back 25 years and still see the pieces waiting to be stitched together.
The other thing that pushed me into a retrospective mindset was my last post, where I mentioned my tug-of-war, high-energy/melancholy personality. It got me to wondering, how long have I been that way? I realized, it’s been as long as I can remember. And I thought about that… What was it like to carry around that odd, almost old-womanish persona in a child’s world? And I recalled the school year of 1968-69. I was in eighth grade. It was the worst year of my sheltered young life. Bad enough that I can still recall how miserable I was, but I have a hard time focusing on the actual details…I’m afraid I simply blocked them out. But since this entry is already getting long, and I have a ton of work to do today, I’ll share that story in my next post.