Monday, April 18, 2005

to a friend, on the occasion of her 40th birthday

The names have been changed to protect the aged.

Happy Birthday, Bernice. I hope you enjoy, your two-scoreth birthday. You know me. I'm not one to give advice or to have much of an opinion on anything, but I do know a little something about being young middle-aged.

You are going to start running into some unpleasant things. Lots more young people are going to start calling you maam and you can't go around hitting them all. You may begin to notice that print is becoming smaller and blurrier. You may notice that nights are a bit darker when you drive and you may notice a tendency for cars and pedestrians to jump out of nowhere. You may find that chairs have gotten a bit lower so that getting out of them is slightly more of a challenge.

There are two ways to react to these things, Bernice, and I hope you chose the right one. You can take the stubborn approach of insisting that print, streetlights, other cars and pedestrians, and chairs are all actually changing and getting less convenient. Or, you can age gracefully. You can just admit that you are getting older, that your eyes don't focus as well as they used to, that your reactions have slowed down, that you are not as limber as you once were.

My advice? Admit nothing. Cling to your illusions of youth like you would cling to a thrown rope if you were being swept away in a flood. After all at this age, our treasured illusions are pretty much all we have to live for.

Do I sound pessimistic? Not at all. You can continue to succeed and overcome challenges just as you always did. The trick is to lower the bar. Now, it becomes a great success if you put down your keys to get the mail and then remember to pick them up again. Every time you get home from the store and can't think of anything you forgot, tell yourself, "Job well done."

You are going to have to change your vocabulary a bit too. Where you used to say, "Oh even my _grandmother_ could have done that!" You have to change to "Oh, even my _mom_ could have done that!" You are going to have to realize that when they talk about "the kids" any more, they don't mean you. And you are going to have to change from saying "that sounds like fun" to "that doesn't sound too tiring" and from "I can lift that, no problem" to "I think I can lift that but first let me see if I have some ibuprofen for my back". There are lots more, which I'm sure you will quickly discover.

Good luck, Bernice, and I'm sure you'll do fine.

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