This will come as no surprise to anyone over the age of 50, but may well be hard to believe for young people: I’m 29. Yup, 29 years of age.
Well, not 29 if you add up the candles on my cake, or if you ask me what I think of the latest meme or my favorite line from the Princess Bride, mostly because I won’t have a clue, but as far as how I picture myself in my mind, I am definitely 29.
WTF? Abby Rodman explains. She found herself in an elevator with a bunch of drunk 25-year-olds.
One of the young men was particularly loud and sloppy. The others, aware of my presence, seemed a bit embarrassed by their friend’s antics. “Where are the lay-dees? Wherecanwefinethuhladies?” he slurred as part of his running commentary.
Rodman was in the elevator, but she, at age 50, was invisible to the drunken kid. Another, who was somehow capable of seeing her, softly asked her how that made her feel.
First, how I see myself isn’t necessarily how others see me. Most of us, even as we age, still feel young. And then, seemingly suddenly, our outsides and insides no longer match, like one of those unexceptional movies in which the personality of a 13-year-old girl invades her mother’s body. So, no matter how much Botox you inject or how many Pilates classes you attend, you’re still the age you are and everyone else can see that. Even if you look good. Even if you look great. You’re still a 50-year-old woman to a 25-year-old guy.
Or a 50-year-old man to a 25-year-old guy. Granted, when we wake up in the morning, parts of us hurt that we didn’t even know we had. The body is weak, and age takes a toll. But the mind is a different story.
What young people often fail to understand is that we remember what it was like to be young. We did it. We were there. We enjoyed the things young people enjoy, and experienced young people experiences. They don’t disappear with each passing birthday.
Second, I remembered how I felt at their age about people my age. They were old. Even if they weren’t. A college professor of mine had a very beautiful, sexy wife (I only realize now) who was probably no older than 35 but, to my college-aged self, she was ancient. The same follows for the elevator guy and me. And just as my youthful opinion of the professor’s wife had no bearing on her life or self-image, nor does the drunken guy’s have any on mine. I’m old to him and that’s just fine.
What changes is our relative perception of things. When we were young, our parents were old. Their friends were old. We knew what old looked like, and they were definitely old. Looking back now, however, we realize that the bodies aged while the mind hung in there at a somewhat amorphous stage of youth, tempered by the experience gained in the interim. You see, I’m still 29, but with a lot more experience.
I can still laugh at funny things, and appreciate new music and art. Granted, I don’t spend as much time keeping up on the latest of, well, anything, but I get there eventually, at least to a small degree. When I go shopping, I don’t go to the fuddy-duddy department to find a new pair of spats or garters.
Being here, and the internet still being mainly populated by digital natives, I am regularly subjected to the worldview of people far younger than my chronological age, who explain to me how and what I think. Most of the time, they are so wildly off-base as to give me a damn good laugh.
I remember trying to understand old folks when I was young. I thought I got it. I was sure of it. I was totally wrong. It was a child’s grasp of how old people saw the world, but as a child, I had no breadth of experience. I could see what they did outwardly, but I forced it into the pigeonhole of my limited understanding. Their actions, but my grasp. I was such a dope. So too are many of you, thinking that you understand what goes through my head. You don’t have a clue.
Third, I’m happy to be in this phase of life. Youth may be wasted on the young but it also belongs to them in both its splendor and struggle. I look at younger women and not for a moment do I wish I could turn back. No. Thank. You.
Sure, I would love to have the vim and vigor of 29 back. I sometimes bend over to lift something, then realize that if I do, chances are good that it will be the last thing I do before spending the next week in bed nursing my back. It was good to be strong. It was good to be thinner. At least I have a full head of hair, which is one of the few legacies my father was kind enough to leave me.
But I don’t want to go back to that 29-year-old dolt, who thought he knew everything and understood it all when the best he could muster was projecting his own childish grasp of the world on others. I was so certain then. It took experience to learn better.
So here I am, a seasoned 29-year-old with back pains, an unpleasant girth and, did I mention this?, reading glasses. Yet, my 29 has a whole lot more experience than your 29. I can do what you do in a tenth of the time, and get it right, because I’ve been there, done that.
I am way past your fears, whether of failure or loss of self-esteem. And your infantile attempts to throw barbs at me can’t make me lose a minute of sleep. My 29-year-old isn’t vulnerable to the things that hurt your 29-year-old feelings. Mine has already done the things you still dream about. They don’t go away because you don’t know what they are.
Yeah, I love being 29 years old, and I plan to stay 29 for the rest of my life. It may have had its struggles the first time around, but it’s a lot better now. And I don’t think less of you for being on your first go-round at 29, because I know that some day, you too will be 29 like me. It just takes time and experience, but you’ll get here.