The way I see it, there is a great pair of jokes played by nature on us humans. Tricks of time: one cruel and the other almost cool enough to make up for it.
First of all, why is it that time speeds up so much as we get older? It’s so damned unfair. When we’re young and impatient for the things we look forward to, time crawls at a snail’s pace. A week can feel like a month, an hour can feel like half the day... until school is out, or we can have dessert, or get to see that movie that’s been advertised forever.
We get older and time speeds up. It’s easier to wait for what we want. We have more patience, and more perspective, it seems. It feels like maturity. But then, that speeding up continues. And continues. Even accelerates. We get into our thirties and we begin to want to slow things down a little. We begin to realize that the longevity that has stretched into the dim future all our lives is not infinite. We’re already into adulthood – that period of time we were desperate for as children – and now it’s speeding by. Our twenties are already behind us, and the years are only running by faster.
I’m into my sixties, and every year seems to last about as long as a month once did. Whatever there is still to do in life, I’d better get to it pretty damned fast, because memory and energy are diminishing as fast as my future.
But, there’s the silver lining. It’s how wonderful it is being an older human being. When I was a teenager, I imagined that the best part of life ended by age fifty, if that. People that age and older seemed to be mostly worn out and used up. I didn’t imagine there could be any real pleasure is being alive at that age. I figured that what kept them going was mostly the dread of the alternative. Wasn’t much to look forward to, so I didn’t think a lot about being older. In fact, I somehow didn’t expect to become an old man. Something would surely save me from the fate of being among the living dead.
But it isn’t like that at all. Being old doesn’t feel much different than being younger. Sure, the body doesn’t work as well as it did, and I’ve noticed that I’ve begun to shrink, but there are so many ways in which life is better. That’s the wonderful joke of nature.
The most surprising thing is that I feel like the very same person I was in my twenties and thirties, but all the experience and choices of the past have begun to pay off. They haven’t all been good experiences and choices, of course, but bad ones have led to better ones, and the good ones have given me so many tools for facing the present in ways I couldn’t before. Patience and perspective are part of the story. But there’s also the shifting of priorities and appetites. I want better things than I used to. And my values are an outgrowth of lived experience, and are therefore more solid and reliable than the values that were so much generated by the noise of the world. And these days, the worth of a choice stems more from its generation than from its consequences.
I’m deep into the second half of my life, possibly into the fourth quarter. I don’t project a lot about what the rest of life will be like. Will the acceleration of time continue? Will life continue to feel this good? Experience confirms that projections can be very wrong. And even if they're right, it’s probably best not to live inside of them. I have foreseen so much pain and difficulty where there turned out not to be any.
I’m sure curious though. And I’ll try to make the best of whatever comes. I know from experience that there will be constant surprises. Every day is full of them.