I’ve always been mystified by the people who are terribly age-conscious. When I was younger, I didn’t get the agonies my peers went through over longing to be old enough for this, that, and the other thing. Driving a car was never especially thrilling or compelling to me, alcohol had little allure as an illicit tipple when I could see how stupidly my peers (and many legal-age drinkers) behaved when drinking more than they could handle, and I’ve still not had the remotest interest in trying to smoke anything. I didn’t even care about R-rated movies any more than I do now; most of those are too violent, too rude, and or too loud for my usual taste.
When I got old enough to do all of the supposedly grownup-geared stuff, I became just as amazed and confounded by those who wish and try to be or appear younger than they are. If I want to lie about my age, I won’t pretend I’m some young thing I’m not; I’ll certainly tell everyone I’m much older than I really am so they’ll be impressed with how fit, alert, and fantastic I am compared to everyone else “my age”—but that’s too much effort for a silly joke on my part. I’m pretty content to be myself, whatever age I am, and let people love, respect, and admire me—or not—for the real me that they know. I’m happy to have accomplished what modest things I’ve learned or done, to covet the thin grey hairs and fine-lined wrinkles I’ve earned through years and experience, and to relish the freedom that comes with age.
Because as far as I’m concerned, the biggest and best goal of growing up (insofar as I’ll concede to attempting anything like that) is to be so at home in my own skin, however baggy and spotty and misshapen it might be, that I can like myself fine and expect the same respect from others without trying to be someone or something I am so obviously not. Here I am, 53-plus years of ordinary, thin-haired, not-so-fit, tacky happiness jammed into a humbly passable carcass, and I’m mighty glad of it.
Breaking free of our bonds can send us soaring. Or it can make us crash hideously. Sometimes the same experiment or adventure can lead to both results, and sometimes that can happen in short shrift. Hubris leads, often enough, to overreaching and all manner of unrealistic expectations and lets us take stupid risks, if we get too caught up in our dreams or delusions to pay attention to their practical details.
Icarus, My Cousin
A bird, aloft on updrafts in the sun
Above the path, could see one tiny soul,
Alone as if in death, yet singly, whole,
Complete and full contented as that One—
For on that path, and in that blessed place,
He knew such deep delight, such peace and calm
From drawing in each breath of nature’s balm
With that sweet sun so gentle on his face—
It seemed that like the bird, he too could fly,
Could rise above the green enchanted wood,
Need only think it and, behold, he could
Leap up at will, suspended in the sky—
Yet, knowing he could not thus really do,
He suddenly wept, bitter now with rue—
So turns the heart of merely mortal man,
Full in one moment of outlandish joy;
The next, despairing like a little boy,
Because the joy’s imperfect, as it can
Be seen by clearer eyes to truly be;
So rose that wanderer up to the crest,
Where soon the path was free of trees, and best,
Clear-viewed down from the cliff there to the sea—
He bound upon his shoulders feathered wings,
Sleek as the bird’s, to take by force his flight
And steal the sky, but its great burning light,
The blazing sun, had no use for such things,
And cast him, melted, in the ocean swell,
Gravity’s slave, thrown back from heav’n to hell.
For myself, I will concede that I have been known to aim higher than my reach many a time, to think I am better or more skilled or more prepared for certain things than I really am. I have gotten knocked on my backside more than once; turned down, failed, fooled, exposed. There are fissures in the earth to prove the grandness of my fall. But what little I have accomplished was done mainly by dint of that same outsized expectation of my success, and without that I would hardly have moved since birth. So while I may grow and change as slowly as a tree breaking roots out of its paved prison cell, I will take my cue from that tree and keep expanding and hoping, and just see what I can do.
Maturity is a hard concept to nail down. So few of us would willingly embrace the larger idea of maturity after all: the implication is too much doused with the odor of aging and the loss of innocence, playfulness and joie de vivre.
But if I can move away from those irksome, unflattering aspects of maturation, there is a whole world of better and more admirable traits awaiting me. To refuse to grow up, as so famously done by Peter Pan, one has to reject all of those pleasures and opportunities afforded only to those willing to submit to the passage of time.
I will continue to avoid becoming ensnared in the traps and trials of aging as long as I can get away with it, and probably further. Who wants to become exclusively serious, constantly responsible or particularly predictable? Not I! Age may force me to slow down my physical pace or even make me willing to concede that there is such a thing as a skirt too short or heels too high or a blouse too fitted to be quite seemly for my years, never mind that choosing certain forms of entertainment or places to go or goals to achieve are not particularly well suited for me anymore.
But I am also glad to let down the barriers to other aspects of maturity, and to embrace my aging with a certain relief when it comes to those. I care less and less, for example, about whether I look fashionable or impressive, so the heels and hems can be whatever altitude suits my comfort and mood. I’m happier in my own skin with every year spent getting to know and define and design it.
That, my friends, is the greatest gift of aging: I am freer from the worries, demands and expectations of the world around me and can work at shaping who I am, what I want, and how I feel more deeply and contentedly than when I thought there was a greater need to conform. Youth is not nearly so unfettered as we idealize it as being; so long as more mature people own our territories of home, school, work and even play, they also rule our lives. So long as we concern ourselves with comparison, competition and popularity, we let others have the power as well. When we learn to fit in and find community by being our truest selves, it changes the tune entirely. This is the richness, ripeness and harmony–within and between–conferred by true maturity.And while I’m thinking about musical metaphors, I really must give you a link to my husband’s latest YouTube appearance, conducting the beautiful and magical Monteverdi Vespers of 1610 with the Collegium Singers and Baroque Orchestra of the University of North Texas, with some tremendous guest artists singing and playing alongside the artful student and faculty musicians. This production was the premiere performance of the new edition of the Vespers that was developed by UNT professor Hendrik Schulze and ten of his graduate students, and among the instrumentalists playing on marvelous period instruments were some of the greatest players now gracing the halls and stages of the Early Music genre. Enjoy!
Strangely enough, the bond of sleep, that weight of Lethe sitting on my soul,
Reminds me constantly to keep from letting diamond days turn back to coal,
For stillness rejuvenates bone and blood and sinew strong enough to bring me on,
And sleep is a portal through which a flood of musings sweep me forward to the dawn,
So rest is essential, and there I lie, seeming immobile while I dance at speed,
Or mounting on magical wings to the sky, to soar as sweetly high as I should need
To see in sleep, in my mind’s eye, new ways to spring from dark to day’s desire,
To find in the darkness of night what I love most amid the constellations’ fire
And planets and comets’ tails’ dross and stone what I can reinvent as suns for day,
On Friday I will hit the road by after-office evening light,
Hit it so hard it’ll snap up and roll like it’s a window shade,
Because a Friday evening is the sort of thing a road is made
For best—what else can put me in a frame of mind so near to right?—
And Saturday will likely see me tearing up the countryside
At speed, pretending I’ve no brakes except to let coyotes dash
Across (or ease me through the turns so I continue not to crash,
But rather, feel that sideways pull, the curve that makes my world so wide)—
And Sunday I’m still flying fast, and though turned homeward, yet a streak,
Because I must keep breathless joy searing my lungs, tearing my eyes,
Crowning my windy hair as though I’d won the biggest ever prize,
Since all this traveling is what will pull me through another week
Starting anew with a fresh clean slate
I feel a sense of freedom, youth
A breathing moment where the truth
Is not unlikely, not too late
I have arisen and begun
Not just by law but for desire
Alit with unaccustomed fire
From some oft-hidden ray of sun
These days when age most often stings
The simple joys right out of me
I slake my thirst with ecstasy
Freedom’s a romantic notion we imbue with pretty joys,
Dreamed escape from life’s commotion and the race’s worldly noise,
Endless travel, music, dancing, and the heat of thrumming hearts,
But though sweet, the dream’s entrancing magic’s only where it starts–
Gypsy life is what we make it, rich as fantasy can be,
Only when we reach and take it: yes, it’s up to you and me
To create this liberation and its joys for which we long–