How do I even begin to write about this?
It is very fresh and is giving me goose bumps and topsy turvy feelings in my body. It honestly feels rather crazy, but here I am.
I know, as much as I have ever known anything, that this is something I have been waiting for, not able to figure out why it has eluded me.
I have been pondering for a while, or as my father would have said, “cogitating,” about wishing I felt my age. The number itself has never been “a thing” for me. I speak the number 74 with no hesitation.
Often, I also say, “I don’t feel my age,” which has its undeniable, treasured benefits.
The last couple of years, however, what I have been longing for, yes, I don’t think that is too strong of an expression, longing for, is to feel my current year and decade of life. To feel it in every part of me, not just the fact of the number.
Most who know me have heard me quote lines from Madeleine L’Engle, written in several variations in more than one of her books. My favorite version is from Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. She writes:
“I need not belabor the point that to retain childlike openness does not mean to be childish. Only the most mature of us are able to be childlike. And to be able to be childlike involves memory; we must never forget any part of ourselves. As of this writing I am sixty-one years old in chronology. But I am not an isolated, chronological statistic. I am sixty-one, and I am also four, and twelve, and fifteen, and twenty-three, and thirty-one, and forty-five, and…and…and… If we lose any part of ourselves, we are thereby diminished. If I cannot be thirteen and sixty-one simultaneously, part of me has been taken away.”
Remembering that I am all of the years, whatever their stories, has the capacity to bring me back to the core parts of me that came along with my birth into this world.
The thing is, I often keep claiming the earlier years and forget to claim the year I currently am. Most of the time I feel a younger version of me rather than the current version of me.
The years are so intertwined, though. They are a tapestry, for sure, and some stitches and designs overlap and merge together in this life journey.
The younger versions feed my heart, my soul and multiple aspects of how I live. I am grateful for them. It is easy for me to stay with them, stay “there”; yet I realize I am doing myself a disservice.
I am the youngest child in my family. Perhaps I have never outgrown that mental sense of place, the little one who was never be able to catch up to my older siblings. My dad’s fond term, which no one but my family ever heard him call me, was, “the teenchy-weenchy,” said in an affectionate way, even long past childhood. I have kind of stayed that, not exactly stunted, no that is not the right term, but in a way, never growing to catch up with my real number either.
Perhaps others will identify with this aspect of not feeling the elder years. My parents are/were the ones in their elder years, not me. I find that I continue to frame much of what I do around being their child, not childish, but the relationship.
The funny thing is that while my dad lived to 91 and my mother to 100, my father gone from this planet for 24 years and my mother for 15, I continue to live as their child, still trying at times to live “up to” whatever it is I thought that meant.
When I was in my 40s and 50s, I felt and saw myself as those ages.
In my 60s and 70s I often say to those entering these years, “Oh, this decade is great” and I mean it. I clearly advocate for the adventures of the third-third of life but have not felt it completely until now.
So how did I finally FEEL 74 wholeheartedly, wanting to stay, and to speak from this place even while honoring and leaning into younger parts of myself? In his book and work, Tracking Wonder: Reclaiming a Life of Meaning and Possibility in a World Obsessed with Productivity, Jeffrey Davis calls this our “young genius.”
I now think of that “young genius” as 74, too, knowing the same qualities that came with me at birth are still present. I can access them even more easily and freely now that I have made it through all the previous decades with the wild combination of successes and failures and fabulous and messy relationships and so much more.
Now that I feel 74 internally, I still have to work on being able to visualize myself as 74
Those are the “old people” I sat with in church instead of my parents when I was a young girl, not “old” with stereotypes, but using that word because of their number. That was my grandmother with her buttoned dresses and black shoes. Those were my parents as they were in their own third-third of life. Those are still “others,” forgetting that when with that group I am seen as one of them.
Do others, when the see me, think 70s? Do people in the aisles of the grocery stores see a 74-year-old? Does someone see my gray hair as a driver and think, “elderly driver?” Don’t even get me started!
Do those who work with me in PT for slight physical adjustments treat me with assumptions about 74 and commend me with that in mind? It makes me smile when I get the sense that is happening, which has made me not want to show up as 74 even more!
Two other things.
I recently called my brother to wish him Happy 82nd Birthday. 82! How can that possibly be? And several months before that, my sister’s 78th. 78! We are THE CHILDREN! That is how I have always seen us, not as ones who are getting closer to the far end of the number continuum, because in so many ways we have not changed who we are in that sibling order.
Ah, that is a whole other conversation, isn’t it?
I realize, too, that I often think of myself in the role of “the child” more than my role as “a parent” for well over 40 years. I am a parent who still thinks of myself as a child.
I am quite sure I am not alone in this, though I do not see much written about it. So, I am speaking it. Hopefully, I have been a good parent in spite of juggling the two mindsets.
There is also the true sandwich generation, those who are raising children while their parents are still living. It’s a period where they might be caring for both, a time with its own qualities.
Another reason to feel the 74-year-old elder adult and stay in this space is to see what is called of me here that I might be missing. I want to write from this perspective of elder/older/elder adult/whatever term one chooses.
When in my late 60s and I wrote my book, Baby Boomers +: A Guide to Designing These Years, Honoring the Full Circle of Life, and Creating Life-Giving Conversation, I did live into knowing and feeling that I am in the third-third of life. The book is part of what is bringing me back now. To live it as much as I lived my age in the writing of it.
For now, it is enough to say that this feeling of the fullness of my current number is part of being completely at home in myself.
I am curious about what living your age number means for you. Please share a sentence or two so we can benefit from different perspectives.