Time is a Relative Thing

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Turning 59 last year was terrible, but tolerable. It left me with 364 more days to claim my place as a “50-something”... 364 more days to be vibrant (ick, yuck, ugh, grrr, )… 364 more days to feel un-old.

Then, at 12:01a.m. on July 18th, I succumbed to 60, and an ugly shift in perception moved in. As if overnight, my passport-to-eternal-youth was replaced with a red and white AARP card. Previously subtle signs of advanced aging now seemed blatantly obvious; my rapid-fire loss of estrogen rivaled only by my increased interest in “downsizing”. Yes, I definitely had a sense of getting old with the passing of my 59th year. 

Fortunately, I have a reality check living Right.Next.Door. When my 60-year-old inner dialogue turns to negative chit chat about aging, I can short circuit it by taking 50 steps to Mom’s apartment to remind myself just what “old” really is.

Approximately one month before my personal death march, Mom celebrated her 92nd birthday. She likes to point out that her 92 years have already passed and that - in fact – she is actually beginning her 93rd year. She’s banking on 100, so the interpretation of time here is important. Mom’s 92+ years puts my paltry 60 into perspective. By all measures, she’s actually old.

And that’s okay with her.

Mom says reaching 100 would be “fun”. Her 90th birthday party was big; a catered event with her kids, grandkids, and great grandkids from all over the country. Surely, she anticipates her 100th will be bigger and she’ll receive best wishes and accolades from near and far. But maybe not…

There was a time when reaching 100 was such a monumental occasion that Willard Scott would honor new centenarians with a personal shout-out, and present their picture on a jar of Smuckers Jam. These days, the awe and wonder of being 100 has diminished, as more and more seniors regularly meet this milestone and their population swells. It’s more like - Ho hum… Mildred’s turning 100… NBD... Everyone’s doing it… 

Maybe it’s not a big deal statistically, but when someone reaches the (very) ripe old age of 100, it’s still worthy of an open honoring because - it is a big deal. Even the most sedentary of these super seniors has lived an extraordinary life just by virtue of time passing. They’ve actively or passively been part of historical events and witnessed the introduction of innumerable inventions.

Mom was born in 1926 which means she’s been around since the invention of penicillin, jet engines, the artificial heart, personal computers, the internet, iPhones, and Tupperware. In her 92 years, she’s seen fourteen US Presidents and lived through U.S. involvement in seven major wars. She’s lived through the Roaring 20s… the Great Depression… Pearl Harbor… and 9-11. Mom watched the first moon landing on TV, as well as the unfolding of Watergate and the assassination of JFK. She marched and applauded for Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, Fair Housing and Social Security.

On a more personal note, Mom’s 92 years have included college, graduate school, marriage, babies, deaths and multiple geographical moves, half the time - while recovering from one of the 15+/- operations and medical events she’s endured.  

That’s a lot of history for one person to witness in their lifetime. To live through any one of those periods and/or events must have required great mental and emotional agility; adapting to ever-changing environmental, social, sexual and familial shifts. There must have been extended periods of time fraught with anxiety, loss, fear and all the other baggage that lands us on a therapist’s couch. When I catastrophize all the possible dangers and disasters that can take place in a span of 92 years, I am gob smacked.  

Yet, when I walk into Mom’s home - she’s just Mom. Seated at her table, reading glasses on the tip of her nose,  she looks up from her busy-ness and describes what she’s doing in exactly that moment… paying bills, shuffling “paperwork” and making phone calls. She’s focused on the present.  Although one quick question about her past could prompt hours of historical recitation, for the most part, it’s as if Mom’s previous 92 years never even happened.

But I know they did happen, and when I stack my 60 next to her 92, my adolescent attitude about aging is adjusted, and I appreciate the awe and expanse of Mom’s extraordinary life.

Emily Gaffney5 Comments