I’ve written before about creeping into middle age; waking up one day to find myself post-45 and so confused – what happened to all those years? I have no answer, no one ever has an answer, but it seems we’re all compelled to ask “where did so many years go?” Childhood and young adulthood seem both close and infinitely far, unreachable.
As I move further and further from those stages, memories fold in on themselves, colors bleeding, edges dulling. I remember bits, snippets of videos – gifs now – things that were once so critical. I hear only my voice, narrating scenes – riding with my friends, galleries of images from my undergraduate and graduate studies, friends who have long since disappeared, bad and sad relationships, stupid dates, moving, a montage of family footage, so much dancing, glimpses of my occasional travels, and the geography of my internal landscape.
So much doesn’t seem real anymore – it’s hard to remember how all those moments felt. I can see them happening, and describe them but, as they grow more distant, it’s harder and harder to recall the feelings, the physicality and presence of me.
That distance seems both blessing and curse.
I was not an exceptional young person. I was not a stunning beauty, talented athlete, genius musician, or great intellectual. I had some moderate successes, but they were because my peers were less educated and trained than I, rather than any outstanding natural talent. That trend has continued throughout my life – moderate ability and success at a number of things, but no “one great thing” that I’ve excelled in.
Perhaps that will continue, or perhaps I will find my “one great thing.” As I note the years passing, though, and gain insight into what it takes to truly excel, I become less and less sure of both my ability and my desire to make that kind of mark. I know what it takes to be expert, and those 10,000 hours don’t come easy. They come harder later, not impossible, but far less effortless.
I think, maybe, that walking the road of the moderate talent has been by unconscious choice. I’ve lived on the outskirt of the spotlight for many years, supporting others and feeling content in that role. I continue play that role today and while I have a measure of contentment, something else is stirring. Many times I’ve felt unrecognized and unappreciated, but it’s hard to know if that stems from a surface desire for recognition, or a deeper sense of always being unseen, of always being a step outside of the golden circle.
As I look to the middle and elder stages of my life, I find that I am like every other human – I desire to leave something of myself behind, a legacy or even a memory. I wonder if it is my destiny to leave this world better, but unremembered.
I do feel fear, occasionally, of growing older. Women over 50 are often relegated to silence, voices suppressed, disregarded in so many ways. I don’t want that to be my fate, I don’t want to grow older with only those melting, self-narrated scenes for company. Like so many before me, I want to be relevant and useful and desirable for as long as possible. I am afraid that I won’t get more chances, that I’ll be discarded, consigned to the cold hands of memory.
There is no comfort here, no warm acceptance of the nature of life and of time. I don’t feel a special resolve to age gracefully, to step aside so others can have their turn. Do I want to live forever? No. But do I want to be present for every moment until I die? Yes.