Last week, I was looking in the mirror during my morning ritual and deciding if I wanted to shave or not when something hit me: I’m getting close to being 60 years old! Well, not that close – I’ll be 55 on my birthday in September, but I had one of those weird moments where the person in the mirror wasn’t the same guy who lives inside my head. It was a very strange moment and I wound up asking aloud, “Well, how old do you think you are?”
It was at that moment when a lot of things I talk to my mother about – who’s 75, by the way – started to make sense to me, especially when we talk about the aches and pains that pop up out of nowhere, like how my right shoulder was kinda stiff and sore. As I stood there looking at the guy with the salt-and-pepper beard, I was wondering who he was – and what happened to the guy with no grey anywhere and a full head of hair. It started to bug me a little because I had no answer to how old I thought I was. As I write this, I think the guy in my head is in his mid-30s but I’m not really sure; what I do know is that he’s not 54.
My thoughts turned to one of those moments that I’d have to say will make Cinfulcinnamon dig out her flashlight again. My father died two years ago and while I never like going to funerals, going to his really weirded me out because as I stood there looking down into the casket, I realized I was looking at myself – or what I’ll probably look like if and when I get to be the age Dad was when he died. When you add on the fact that I had a stroke three years ago, you can probably guess where his funeral had my head – it was very, very unsettling.
The thing that kinda gave me a slap in the face as I looked in the mirror was realizing that while I know I’m getting older, I really don’t think about it. When I look into my own eyes – those times when I’m not fighting with my contact lenses – I see eyes I’m familiar with, from the nice brown color of my irises to the intelligence that has always shined in my eyes, as well as the wisdom gained from having to grow up before I was ready to. Looking at myself that way, I have no idea how old the guy is these eyes belong to; there are some people who, when you look into their eyes, appear to be ageless and maybe this is what I was experiencing that day. It was like looking at myself, noting this very odd different in my head and realizing “I am.” That’s kinda hard to explain – I know what it means but I can’t verbalize it. The closest thing I can say about this is that it’s a confirmation that I know exactly who I am but, ah, I have no idea how old I think I am.
At some point, everyone gets asked the question, “If you could be any age, how old would you want to be?” For the longest time, I didn’t have a definitive answer except to maybe respond with how old I didn’t want to be. Some wanted to go back to their teenaged years and while that sounds nice, I can remember my teenage years, while awesome, are not years I’d want to repeat. I finally decided that if I could be any age again – and I could do it knowing what I know now, I’d probably like to be 30 again; it was a time in my life when I was really coming into my own.
And maybe that’s where the guy inside my head is – he’s 30 and always has been… and I hope he always will be. That dude in the mirror? I know him and even with all the grey in his beard and mustache, he’s pretty cool – and not all that bad looking, if I must say so myself. He’s the guy who can look back over all the years and see how everything he’s ever done is and always has been relative – he understands what being alive is all about and how nothing really changed – it just keeps coming and going around.
I was talking to Mom a few days after the mirror moment and was sharing it with her; she not only understood exactly what I was talking about but, as always, she thought it was pretty funny – and I even know why; it’s the same reason why I often laugh at my children over certain things. My mother laughs because she knows what the deal is and, now, so do I. Anyway, we were talking about being in pain since it’s a constant companion now for both of us albeit for different reasons. While we gabbed about pain, pain medications and, in particular, the effect it can have on your mind, I came to realize that the 30 year old in my head needs the 54 year old in the mirror to deal with the 24/7 pain I have. The 30 year old can’t stand it – it makes him nuts but the older guy, all cool and logical, holds everything together and just deals with it.
What Mom and I do agree on – and we do agree on a great many things – is that you never really understand the true nature of pain until you have it and you can’t make it go away. Prior to the stroke, about the worst pain I’d ever had to deal with was having a toothache that just wouldn’t quit, or maybe the time I had a really bad reflux moment and thought I has having a heart attack – but I think that was more scary than painful. I used to sit and wonder about pain when I’d read or hear someone who was in a lot of pain ended their life because they could no longer deal with it; to me, being alive is a great gift and I just couldn’t get my head around pain being so bad that you didn’t want to live.
Then I had the stroke and found out for myself – I really do understand it, just like I now understand that until you have to live with this kind of pain, you have no idea what it’s like. Mom and I were laughing about us having this understanding and even she gave me props for my ability to not let the pain control me, which is easier now than it was a while ago – that was pretty fugly. What dawned on me was that the 30 year old in my head has the tenacity and drive to hold on to life – and sanity – while the man in the mirror has the cool, calculating logic to understand what the pain’s all about and, knowing that nothing short of a miracle (or dying) is going to make it go away, always says, “Yeah, we can handle this.”
My mother happened to ask me how I keep the pain from sending me over the edge and I told her that, now, when the pain gets horrible and those thoughts creep into my head, I just think about my father lying in his casket… and everything’s better. All I really have to do is think about the alternative and, yep, that gets my head out of my ass in a hurry!
While I’ve been talking about this as if I’m schizophrenic – and I’m not – I know there’s really only one person – me. But, I also realized that, in a way, everyone is schizophrenic – just some more than others. Naturally, this is because the way we think, the way our brains work to perceive reality and interpret it. It’s that thing in every one of us that makes us say things like, “I’m of two minds about…” or “One part of me says…” and other such phrases. We all talk to ourselves – some more than others – but, ah, when you do (even silently) do you ever get the sense that you’re having a mental conversation with more than one person – but they all have the same “voice?”
Things like this just amazes me – the human brain is a fascinating machine and it seems to me that the older I get, the more interesting it gets. I can sit here and shift through years of memories – in seconds; the 30 year old thinks that’s so cool, while the 54 year old just rolls his eyes and says, “Duh…” Haven’t even talked about the kid in me; what I know about him, well, he’s kinda crazy. I think he’s about 15 – depending on the situation because I’ve had glimpses of the six year old, too; and since I mentioned him, I know I’ll be seeing him when we go on our cruise in November. In fact, it was when I went on a ten day cruise in Hawaii that I got reintroduced to the six year old, who was having so much fun on the ship that the 30 year old was rolling his eyes and saying, “Dude, grow up, will ya?”
The six year old is the one who doesn’t have a care in the world; to him, everything is new and exciting and needs to be explored. He’s also the one with the great sense of humor – the practical joker and class clown that lives inside everyone. The 15 year old keeps the 6 year old in check – I think that’s all he does as far as I know; at 15, I was already mentally an adult – one who was still getting a handle on this change in thinking – but a lot older than I should have been in that regard. I think the 15 year old’s job is to remind the 6 year old that we’re no longer a child and there’s a time and place for childish things. The 15 year old is the gatekeeper, letting the 6 year old out just enough to make living the fun thing it is, although I find that at 54, the six year old keep picking the lock and sneaking out. The 54 year old doesn’t mind at all – he fully understand why this has to be; the 30 year old, well, I don’t think he’s all that happy about it at times but tolerates the fact that it has to be; the 15 year old keeps changing the locks – and the six year old just laughs his ass off and keeps on having fun regardless.
And all of these “people” are me. There’s a 40 year old hanging around and I think we’re just beginning to compare notes with each other; I think this is the part of me that says, “Okay, things have really changed” and keeps track of those changes and reminds me of stuff that the 54 year old needs to be aware of. I do know the 40 year old and the 6 year old don’t exactly get along with each other; the 40 year old is way too serious to deal with the kid in me and he’d rather not, even though, yeah, theres really no choice in the matter. Oh, yeah; the 40 year old is the timekeeper and pisses everyone off by reminding us, “The clock is running…”
I’m sitting here laughing about all of this because, while getting older is some serious shit, it’s pretty funny if you’re able to sit down and take yourself apart as I’ve done here, which is pretty much what everyone does – they just don’t do it like I do.
I like the person I’ve become to this point and wonder what the older version of me is going to be like when, say, I hit 60 – early projections indicate that guy’s going to be pretty interesting. I don’t like all the aches and pains – the stuff not related to the stroke but, as my mother tells me, that just comes with age and the more you stay active both mentally and physically, the longer you can keep things at bay. Hell, she’s 75 and more active than I am! She continues to lead by example; she’s my hero, my idol, my mentor, and I’ve always believe that if she can do a thing, so can I because, even at 54, I still have this need to make Mom proud of me.
What that mirror moment did was give me some perspective. Everyone in my generation, with the exception of my brother, is still around and getting it done. Of that generation, I’m the oldest – but the rest aren’t that far behind, well, except maybe my baby sister who’s still in her 40’s – Glynnis will be, ah, 44 in September. I know we’re all getting older but, in a strange way, it doesn’t seem as if we are. I think about my children and see them getting older, watching them arrive at times and moments and situations that I’ve already passed through. When I think of my grandchildren, that’s when I kinda get reminded of either how old I really am or this weird time thing that goes on. My youngest grandchild, Milan, is four; the last time I saw him, he was still literally a baby. When my daughter-in-law mentioned Milan’s age, I was like, “Wow, where the hell did four years go?”
Where indeed? You get older, are aware of the passage of time… yet time seems to stand still. Or maybe, through some of that brain magic, time kinda gets stuck in certain places. I know it’s actually a memory thing and it was pretty cool figuring it out. The last time I saw Milan, as I’ve said, he was still a baby – and that’s the last image and memory I have of him in my mind and it hadn’t been updated until Miami told me Milan was four. Now, I haven’t seen him – but my mind went, “Huh?” and kinda/sorta updated a few things, which made time shake itself loose and play catch up.
When you’re growing up, older people are always telling you what you should be doing at a certain age, how you should behave, stuff like that. As I get older, I find that what I should be doing – and no one’s really told me this – is to keep having clarity of thought and purpose. Well, maybe Mom did tell me by simply saying that I have to keep on keeping on. It’s funny how, when you’re younger, you tend to think in years but, when you’re older, you somehow started thinking in terms of days, as in taking one day at a time and/or living every day as if it’s your last.
Man, I’m glad I don’t take that last statement literally – the six year old would be having a field day and the 54 year old would be explaining himself to a judge! I’m at the part in my life where people are supposed to grow old gracefully; I understand the concept but that mirror moment had me wondering if I were really growing old gracefully or not, which is probably what got me asking myself how old I thought I was. I know I’m getting older… and then again, I doesn’t seem as if I am. It’s truly a matter of perspective and I find it all very interesting and exciting. My brain’s running on all 12 cylinders, although one needs a ring job; the body, well, it’s got some issues, but I can still put on some music, jump up, and start pop-locking all over the place – like that commercial that comes on about arthritis – that is so cool because, yeah, I can do that…