The other day I noticed a super old guy shuffling along at Lincoln Park and came to a shocking realization: At 52 years old, I’m as close in age to a geriatric geezer as I am to the 30-something yoga teacher I’m hitting on at the bar. I’m not OK with that. While age may be a “state of mind,” actual years are piling up faster than the gray hairs poking out of my eyebrows.
My main preoccupation isn’t actually the fear of death, but the amount of time I may have left. I’d hate to break it down into a specific number of days (approximately 14,609), but when people your own age start dropping dead, it tends to cross your mind.
When I shared my depression about turning 50, my doctor told me people who are already 50 have a much better chance of making it to 100. “If you think about it,” notes Doc Harrington, “the hardest part is the first few years — all the defects and abnormalities you could have been born with, all the infectious diseases and childhood accidents. You’ve already made it past all the crazy stuff your friends dared you to do, all the wild things you did as a young man that should have killed you but didn’t. You survived.”
Still, I’m a skeptic. Every two months there’s another definitive study out about the key to longevity: turns out a glass of wine a day keeps the doctor away. Or is it milk? Or sex? Or steam baths? Or ginseng?
What works for one person doesn’t work for another. There is a woman in Taiwan who is 117 and swears a whiskey a day is the key — along with never getting married. Sure, exercise and moderation and eating healthy are good ideas, but at some point your number is up. It can be a heart attack that gets you, or the dreaded c-word, or, if you’re lucky, getting hit by a trolley car like my great-grandfather at the age of 95. The only thing that’s absolutely for certain is that each and every person eventually passes on. That’s why I’m working on enjoying however many precious moments that remain.
If this is my midpoint (middle age sounds so damn old!), I’m seeking balance: between work and play, between family and solitude, between engagement and observation. I’m practicing equanimity — mental calmness, even temperament, and composure, especially in a difficult situation. The best way I’ve heard equanimity described is to be in “grandparent mode,” as compared to being a parent. You approach relationships, interactions, and stressful events with love and support and concern, but in the end you are able to leave the drama behind and simply go on, knowing you’ve done your best.
I began explaining this notion to the yoga teacher at the bar, but I thought it was a little early to discuss grandparenting. Everything in due time.