There are a few thoughts that dominate my mind lately. And they’re both sort of broad-ranging and, in a way, tied together. The subjects? Aging and our connected world. I want to talk about aging first. And I’m likely to write more about it but I’ve been trying to get this down digitally forever.
Aging, ageism, and generational lines are of particular interest to me, especially as I’m significantly closer to my exit from this planet than my entrance. I still have time left, but the sun has long passed the mid-day mark and is working it’s way toward the horizon.
Youth is Wasted on the Young
When I was young – in my late teens and before having kids – I was certain that I would be dead before I reached 30. Not a really uncommon thought. But that seemed appropriate and a likely scenario for me. Because I couldn’t fathom aging beyond that. Those thoughts faded with each passing year but in my youth, old age was always far off and unimaginable.
I remember very distinctly turning 30. On my exact birthday that year, I felt my mortality for the first time. I finally realized that, as much as I had imagined myself dying some meaningful and possibly memorable death, I was in fact going to die. And it would be very real. Not some romanticized version from my younger days. It was when I turned 30 that I realized life was here and now, I was part of it, and it would most definitely one day end.
At 40, I began to feel my mortality physically. Changes in my physical capabilities made me acutely aware that the body doesn’t last forever, no matter what the mind does. In my mid-40s, I realized that death would hit everyone and the revelation struck me that there were people on this planet who I knew but would likely never see again in this life. As I get older, this thought hits me more.
All of Life
I also realized, and this depressed me more than anything, that I would never (at least knowingly) live another life. This body and this environment that I knew, the one in which I had grown and developed, was it. I would never know what it’s like to be a 16-year-old school girl in Tokyo. I would never be a stylish, young black man living in England. I would never come from old money and exist in some inner circle of socialites, with a posh mid-town apartment in New York. I wouldn’t be tending a family farm for decades in rural Australia, nor would I grow up an orphan in Belfast. I would be neither the man nor the woman living next door. Or any of a billion other lives. My memories wouldn’t find me enjoying a stroll down sunbaked streets in Madagascar, or playing, as a child, with friends on the streets of Bangladesh.
This was it. What I was experiencing was, in fact, all of my life.
And then one day, I was online and I realized that a lot of my friends are now old. Old people! (Or at least older people.) These were my friends, some of whom I’ve known for now decades. There they were, staring at me. And I, one of them, staring right back. The life I couldn’t imagine in my 20s, I was now living. And curiously enough, I only have brief and fleeting memories from my 20s.
And there’s so much that’s different at this age. More people dying. The question, “How are your parents,” becomes part of your life. I remember a conversation with my dad a couple of years ago (now in his mid-80s) and he said, “All we do is go to funerals anymore.” So I guess that’s a stage of life.
Something poignant I read recently was that children don’t realize they’re also watching their parents growing up. And that really struck me. But it isn’t just children. It’s all of us watching all of us advance through this life, from birth to death. Nobody (that I personally know of) has done this before and has experience going through life. It’s brand new to all of us. Every single stage of life.
So everything about this is on my mind. Life. Death. Youth. Old age. Everything in the middle. Legacy. Generations and what defines them. Ageism against the young and old. Marketing. Culture. And how we handle all of it.
At some point much earlier in my life, I had determined that my singular (and astoundingly unoriginal) goal in life was to leave the world better than when I entered it. That’s all I hoped for. If even in the smallest of ways, someone’s life is better for our paths having crossed, fantastic. Because I am a firm believer in the butterfly effect. And I believe that life itself, the whole of it for humanity, could and should be viewed as it’s own entity. Helping life thrive and grow in meaningful directions is worthwhile, I feel.
So I hope I do that. Even if it’s after death. Which, with any luck, is a good bit off. Because I’ve got places to go and people to see.
Like I said, this is one of the more dominant thoughts right now and I have a lot to say. So maybe consider this part 1? I don’t know. Just take it as it is, I suppose. That’s probably fine. Also, I don’t like going dark or heavy. So I’m going to try to lighten this up a little. But you know, you get what you get. 🙂