I turned 46 an hour ago. A friend asked me tonight how old I was going to be and I replied, “I’m not sure.” She laughed and I laughed, but it is the truth. Part of it, I explained is that my best friend Sheila’s birthday is in March and whenever she turns a new year, I somehow assume I have also. I even begin anticipating the event ahead of time – next March, Sheila will be 47, so that by the time March actually rolls around I think she’s been 47 and is now turning 48 and thus, I am 48, so by the time my birthday arrives, I must be 49. Did I mention, math has never been my strong suit?
Part of it is, in spite of all this anticipatory mathematics, I really tried to give up counting at 40, so I’ve expanded the equation, deciding I should subtract a year or two to make us younger; hence when I look ahead to next March – thinking by then Sheila will be 48 – I subsequently subtract two years, making her 46. And, by my birthday in July – when I add my customary year on to Sheila’s age making myself 47, I must also subtract two years from that, allowing me to arrive at 45. This thus, means Sheila will be 46 the next year…you obviously see where this is going. And, while some of this is tongue-in-cheek, as I’ve aged and my memory has failed a bit, it becomes increasingly difficult to remember the actual truth.
All this is to say that aging is a strange thing. My friend Betty, who inquired how old I was turning, subsequently admitted that she doesn’t feel her age. Whoever does? I thought. Here, I am over halfway through my fourth decade and I’m only now beginning to do things some people set out to accomplish in their twenties. I have friends whose kids are graduating from college, who are celebrating their 20th anniversaries, who are selling their homes and building new ones, while I still crave all of this.
I remember when I was a child thinking of writing a letter to my older self, but even then I decided against it fearing that once the future arrived and I opened the letter I would be disappointed that the things I dreamed of had not come true. A very positive view, huh? No wonder I’m still waiting for so much.
But actually my view is not as negative as it sounds. Sheila once called me “a closet optimist” and she is right. In my heart faith always wins. Like so many people before me, I realize the silver lining in the silver hairs – my sense of self, my knowledge of who I am, is so much stronger than when I was younger. I know that 46 is not old. I’ve learned that there is not only one path to take, but many and each person carves her own trail. I may subtract a year or two in my head, even crave to be younger in my heart, but if I were to write a letter now to my younger self, I would tell her not to fear so much, to expand her perspective to revel in possibility.
You will travel, I would tell her and you will find out you are not as fat as you think, and you will know love and loneliness and find each is very different than you envisioned it. You will survive both! And, I would tell her to write her letters without fear because the equation can always be adjusted and if you’re only as old as you feel, you never truly age. I would tell her that by the time this birthday rolled around, she might gain the perspective of experience, but she would feel like no time had passed at all. She would still be facing an uncertain horizon, staring off into the future and wondering what it was all about. So make the best of it, I would write. Time’s passing and next year Sheila turns 47 or is it 48 or 46…No matter.
Write a letter to your past or future self. What do you have to say?