In a few weeks I will be 54 years old -- that's right, just one year away from all those senior discounts offered by restaurants, retail outlets and other establishments. It will no longer seem out of character if we want dinner reservations at 5 p.m., or if we rarely get home after 11 p.m. or if we enjoy watching "Jeopardy" on television each evening. This next year will be my last as part of the "under 55" crowd.
Those are the light-hearted things that most people joke around about when it comes to getting more and more birthdays under your belt. And while, for a long time, I never understood why people my age had a fear of aging, or worse, a midlife crisis, I now get it. I get it completely. If you're not there yet, it works like this:
Imagine that life is a river you float down on in an inner tube. At the end of the river is a giant waterfall you WILL go over. People disagree about what's on the other side of the waterfall, but the point is, everyone goes over the falls in their inner tube. There is no getting out of it.
Now, for a long time, you are cruising along in your inner tube, taking note of the wonderful scenery on the banks and enjoying your life. You can't see up ahead, the river in that direction is always covered by a thick mist, but the mist clears as you enter each new section of the river and it's mostly sunshine. This is called "the present." Of course you never really know if you're close to the falls or not, but when you are young the probability is high you are a long, long ways away from them.
And then, one day, when you are about 50, you hear something, off in the distance. And there is no question what it is: It is the sound of the falls. It seems like you just wake up one morning and it's there. You know the sound wasn't there before; it's a new sound. And about the time you start noticing it, you realize that some of your peers -- people you loved or went to school with have already gone over the falls ahead of you. Holy shit. You can actually hear them when they go over.
So let me be brutally honest with you. At that moment, when you recognize the sound you are hearing is The Big Waterfall, you want nothing more than to start furiously backpedaling down the part of the river you came down from. You might even try doing just that, but you can't fight against the current. You are meant to be carried forward, and forward you will go.
So with that realization comes the knowledge that you're now geographically closer to the falls than to the start of the river where you began.
How you deal with this information, from now until you inevitably go over the falls, is something I have been thinking about a lot lately. I have complete and total faith that life beneath the falls -- after the fall over the cliff itself --is wonderful beyond imagining. Yet the idea of going over the falls is still scary to me. The idea of hearing that sound of rushing water, louder and louder as I go on through life, is also unnerving.
Perhaps in time I will work it out in my own head and be OK with this, but for now it's something I think on often and am not yet comfortable with. I believe this is the ultimate cause of the midlife crisis, the bad facelift, the insistence on wearing juniors clothing, and a whole host of ridiculous behavior. It's not wishful thinking. It's terror over where all that time went and how little seems to be left.
No mean feat, I'm telling ya.