One of the intense realizations post 50 is that, in many ways, you have died to one stage of your life and started another. Turning 50 is shocking on so many levels, but not for the reasons I thought. I assumed that I would be ‘old’, whatever that means. I assumed I would be unattractive. I believed that I would be ‘settled’ and ‘rooted’, firmly down life’s path towards some expected destination. My life, by this time, was going to be predictable. I figured I would be struggling with the physical infirmities of what I imagined to be ‘older people’s issues’.
My life is utterly unpredictable. I am not settled. I started a new job (without leaving the main one), will be moving soon to the wilderness, and am no longer raising a child (I’m raising an adult at the moment). My physical issues are much improved from when I was 30. I was sicker as a child and as a young adult than I am now. I don’t look young but I don’t look old; it’s still the 30 year old’s face plus a little gravity. There have been many surface changes, like waves that pass over the ocean, but the deep water remains unchanged.
I’m no different from who I was at 30. My circumstances have changed many times over. I can list all the stuff that ‘happened’, such as divorce, multiple moves and job changes, loved ones that passed on, serious illnesses, assorted disappointments and traumas, but I realized yesterday (while on a spiritual trek in the hills) that those lists we make that are supposed to mark the difference between ‘youth’ and ‘age’ are meaningless. Even the changes in my face and body that signal the passage of time are meaningless. I am the same, essential personality that I was 20, even 30 years ago.
The fact that my personality and identity remain unchanged leads me to believe that who we are is not subject to time at all. I expect at 80, I will have this same realization. Time wears away the physical body but does nothing to one’s spirit (unless disease has taken hold of the brain), and ultimately, we identify ourselves with that core personality, that soul or spirit that is ‘us’, and not with the texture of our skin or the speed of our gait. My perspective on this issue is, perhaps, different from most people’s. I was a sick kid. I couldn’t run without asthma or play outside without severe allergies. I’ve had multiple surgeries for various issues that have left me without the illusion that youth equates health and energy.
Since youth was pretty much wasted on me–and I spent so much of it trying to survive physically and emotionally–I feel that it’s only now that I am experiencing what most people consider ‘youth’. It’s an odd feeling. The culture tells me that I’m ‘over the hill’ and old, but my mind, body and heart tell me that I’m young for the very first time. Youth involved tremendous suffering: the chronic fears and insecurity, the anxiety about relationships, the trauma over not following the timeline for maturity, the incessant lack of confidence, the struggles and drama with friendships and family . . . the list goes on and on. While I am not free of all of that yet, I can see freedom just ahead; and I have moments of liberation now that were impossible then.
There is something about us that simply does not age. We are both material and spiritual, and even though I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: the spiritual does not age or die. It is not subject to the forces that work on our material bodies. My memories of past lives are so strong, and have so decisively affected my identity in this life, that I know I’ll be back around. I have so much work to do still; I am still not fully ‘conscious,’ in the sense that I have tremendous amounts of personal growth to do and can’t imaging being ‘done’ by the time I die. That is the liberation, though: I don’t have to have attained enlightenment in this life. I will have more. As many as it takes.
That knowledge takes off the pressure. I can enjoy this youth that I’m experiencing without thinking that I need to ‘move on’ or ‘progress’ or be more adult. I don’t know how long this weird back to the future feeling will last. One serious illness and it’s over, I know all too well. But for now, God has allowed me to be a young adult again. I’ve lived my life in reverse. I started so old, so very old, and now I’m growing backwards into my 30s and 20s, which makes no sense. Actually, it makes perfect sense, but it’s hard to explain.
Time is truly a human construct. We need to measure time, but we are measuring something that has no independent existence. We define it by association: I have loose skin under my neck, therefore time has passed. My right hip hurts, therefore it has been 30 years since I was young. We associate various physical transformations with time passing in a straight line, and so we divide up our experiences by years and decades. This is truly arbitrary, however. The ‘thing’ we’re measuring DOES NOT EXIST. It shows up in certain formulas in physics, but it can travel either direction and the formulas still work (e.g., relativity).
Associating life events with time passing in one particular direction is simply a convenience that allows us to live lives that seem ordered and organized according to a simple principle. However, we assign damaging values and beliefs to these events that happen: I “AM” 50 or 60 or 70 is such a strange way to identify yourself. You are stating that your identity is somehow defined by a measurement of a quality that has no objective reality. It’s like saying, I AM 360 seconds; I AM 14 calendars; I AM this intersection of space-time. Why do we take such a vital verb–to be–and tie it to a system of measurement?
There is no objective meaning to a number that measures existence as ‘you’. ‘YOU’ have always existed somehow, and will always exist somehow. There is no effective measurement for infinity or eternity. We are a deeply materialist culture. We are prisoners to appearances. We fear death because we refuse to look beyond death. If we did, we would see existence stretching out before and beyond us: we are still who we always have been. This might terrify someone who hasn’t learned to love life or love who she is; but there is time to learn this, too.
I started this post thinking that I was in my second half of life. But I think that I already lived the second half. Welcome to the first half, Kirsten.