Yesterday, I turned 42. I can’t believe it. 42 is a grown-up’s age. I am not a grown-up. I mean, I do grown-up things. I have a mortgage. And children. But I feel… I don’t know how old I feel. Early thirties maybe? Late twenties? Although I recently found a diary I wrote when I was 28 and I don’t remember what 28 felt like. I think it probably felt pretty much like this…
Do people feel older as they get older? Really? Or do you get to a certain level of grown-up-ness and just stick like that? I remember my mum saying she was often shocked when she looked in the mirror – she was expecting a young woman and she never got used to seeing what she called an old lady (she was only 61 when she died, so she never really did see an old lady).
I recently read a bit of John O’Farrell’s latest novel, The Man Who Forgot His Wife. It’s about a man with amnesia – he literally remembers nothing about himself or his life. This bit made me laugh.
I ventured into a public toilet just to stare into a mirror and was shocked by the age of the bearded stranger I saw frowning back at me. I guessed I was around forty, maybe more, greying at the temples and thinning on top. Without even thinking about it, I’d presumed I was somewhere in my early twenties, but now I could see that I was actually two decades older than that. I learned later that this was nothing to do with my particular neurological condition – that’s just how everyone feels in middle age.
Being 42 doesn’t bother me (much), but it does seem completely unbelievable. Just after he died last year, I saved this quote from Maurice Sendak: “I can’t believe I’m an old man. I was young just minutes ago.” I don’t feel like I was young minutes ago, in fact if I think back to, say, primary school, it seems a quite staggeringly long time ago – a lifetime ago – but I do still think “42? Already?!”
I seem to manage to balance fretting that time is running out with thinking the best is yet to come (and I’d really like to live to at least 100 – if not forever, obv. – so I may actually have more ahead of me than behind me) and I love this quote, tweeted by one of my favourite tweeters, @QuiltingMuriel “Today is the oldest you’ve ever been, yet the youngest you’ll ever be, so enjoy this day while it lasts.”
I also feel that finally, finally, I’m getting my shit together and becoming – and I’m sorry about this – the person I always meant to be. I am, as Oprah would say, Living My Best Life. Or I’m getting there anyway.
In last month’s O magazine, Oprah wrote about a woman celebrating a birthday in a restaurant asking her to take a photo of the group. (Really? You’re celebrating your birthday and you ask Oprah Winfrey to take the group photo?!) The woman didn’t want to tell Oprah her age, saying “I’ve been a wreck for weeks knowing this day was coming. It just makes me sick to think about it.” It turns out she was turning 43. Oprah’s horrified, saying “It makes you sick to think that you’ve marked another year, that every worry, every strife, every challenge, every delight, every breath every day was leading to this moment?” And then she added, “By the way, most of us are just hitting our stride in our 40s, ready to break out into our real selves.”
Oprah’s always right, right?