Tuesday, May 5, 2009

As inevitable as death and taxes...

"The Buddha taught that among the most predictable human sufferings are sickness and old age."--Pema Chodron, from Taking the Leap

When I turned 26 back in 1999, I thought that was over-the-hill. I told myself I had to do everything a young single person would do before I hit 27 and it was too late. I started roller-blading. I got my belly button pierced (surprisingly, my mother was more upset about it than my Sicilian father, who thought it was cute.) For one carefree month in the summer I was dating two different guys. I quit my editorial assistant job with the bad boss and started working for a start-up, where they let me write about books all day. 26 turned out to be a pretty good year. But it really had nothing to do with my physical age, just my resolve to make some changes, to take some risks.

On Sunday I turned 36. I was again struck by the feeling that I was over-the-hill--maybe even past the hill and heading for the ravine. I started performing the highly unhelpful exercise of comparing myself to others my age. I have some high-achieving friends and many of them are now having babies or planning to, while still keeping their careers. I admire them because they are making things happen. They're evolving, and each time we talk there's something new about them.

I'm trying to find my own path, one that won't be including children but will include other things that make life worthwhile--helping others, a personal passion, creativity, travel, love. This blog has helped a lot and so has volunteering. In a little over a month we'll be going to Europe, to a city where I've never been. But there's still a question mark when I think of the future--what will it bring, what will I do to make it good? On bad days I imagine all my efforts at happiness leading to the day when I'm old and alone in a one-bedroom apartment with my cats and the television always on. On good days, I think of the people in my life now, and those I have yet to meet, plus the places I'll go with Mike and the new experiences I can still have as long as I stay healthy and can be brave.

I will grow old and get sick--that is inescapable (unless of course I die young--slipping on a wet floor, for example, or getting hit by a cab. I'm fairly clutzy and spacey.) But I don't have to let age hold me back from enjoying myself. I don't have to focus on it as much as I do, use it as an excuse for not trying new things. I have to let go of the idea of expiration dates, stop looking backwards at the 26 year-old me without cellulite on my legs or a mortgage cutting into my spending money. I need to focus on where I'm at right now, and appreciate it. After all, in ten years I'll be complaining about being 46...ect, etc.


sallymandy said...

Sigh. I just turned 46 this spring, Jennifer. I wish Pema would stop writing about old age causing suffering. I want to stay in denial. I keep hoping for a spiritual way to avoid that. It's been a very eventful and growth-filled ten years since I turned 36. I'm glad you're thinking about it.

I have learned to try to stop and appreciate what I have because I know I do look back on certain ages and wonder, "what was I thinking?" In ten years I will think 46 was pretty young...so that's a reality check.

I liked your thoughtful post.

NatureGirl said...

I have been a bit pensive about the transitions of life lately as well (My next bday is 40). Thank you for your thoughts!