I’m now too old to be young and beautiful, although now I suspect I was, back in the day.
I’m now too old to be “successful” in the realm of public achievement, fame, and fortune, although I now question that definition of success.
I’m too old to have more children, to see without corrective lenses and to hear clearly over ambient noise.
And I think I’m too old to go back to school to become a lawyer, social worker, banker or physician – careers I never considered but nevertheless fantasize about on days when I want to escape the life I have crafted.
Most days, this life is better than I ever dreamed. But just as there are gray days of regret over choices I’ve made, like stepping out of the mainstream career I’d trained for, most days I accept that I made the best choices I was capable of making at the time. And of course, some choices didn’t seem like self-determination so much as cultural and biological imperatives, like falling in love and raising my young.
Most days, I’m aware of how lucky I am, and I recognize that this groove of What Might Have Been and If Only as that bad habit of dissatisfaction that is perhaps programmed into human DNA. Whether it’s a matter of nature or nurture, I’m not sure. I’m thinking that it’s actually a function of age, and I’m finally outgrowing it.
I accept certain realities:
I will never have a sister; instead, I have a few good friends.
I will never have more children; I have three who are grown, and who are among my favorite people on the planet.
I have more than I need; all my basic needs are met – and then some. Increased riches or more “stuff” holds no interest; I’m more interested in paring down my possessions and supporting good causes so that others can realize their dreams.
I’m grateful for health, happiness, and a good credit rating – the result of a combination of good genes, good luck, and a lifetime of paying my bills on time.
And while I’m sometimes jealous and always in awe of my young-adult children who are living more mindfully, with a greater sense of responsibility inherited with their white, middle-class privilege than I had at their age, I’m also aware that I did my best, and I’m not dead yet.
I’m not even that old, as my 91-year old dad reminds me every Tuesday afternoon, when we swim together at the local pool. While he rests between laps, I push myself to swim non-stop for a half hour.
“What’s the rush?” he asks.
I always feel pressed for time.
The irony of this situation is not lost on me.
Slowly, I’m slowing down. After surviving the crucible of simultaneously nesting, raising my young, supporting my family and patching together a writing career, I’ve discovered the pleasures of single-tasking: doing just one thing at a time with complete concentration. It’s a challenge to learn this new way of being, especially after so many years of getting things done, and collapsing at the end of the day with everything on my To Do list crossed off. I no longer keep an extensive To-Do List. Instead, I go to work, where I tackle one important task at a time; everything else falls into place.
This is the life I dreamed of when I was twenty: living in the country, growing my own food, and writing daily. I’d expected to achieve this life by the time I was thirty, along with a long list of published books. The dream didn’t include a partner, children, public service or sleep.
All I can say in my own defense is that I was young and naïve back then; now, I’m middle-aged and mature. Now, when I suffer regrets for things I didn’t – and probably won’t – ever do (go to law school, earn an MBA, become an MD), I recognize I’m indulging in a kind of self-flagellation born of comparison, expectation and fantasy. I’m seeing a glass that’s half full, when in fact my cup is full to the brim.
Deborah Lee Luskin is the award-winning author of Into the Wilderness, a love story, set in Vermont during the Goldwater – Johnson presidential campaign in 1964. She blogs Wednesdays at www.deborahleeluskin.com
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