Recently I read a very kind review of my new book, Not All Bad Comes to Harm You. The reader, complimentary of my work, gave me a five-star review for which I was thrilled and deeply grateful. But you know how someone can say a thousand nice things about you, but the one thing you perceive as less-than-flattering is all you can remember weeks later? Well, my reviewer used a turn of phrase that stuck with me; she referred to me as a "middle-aged woman."
What?! When did that happen?
Yep. I'm fifty-six now. But for some odd reason I just never saw myself as "middle-aged." In my mind I'm somewhere in my late thirties, only smarter. They say (who are "they," anyway?) that we all have a mental age to which we relate more than our physical age. Mine's thirty-something. I've never questioned it nor wavered from it in spite of the ticking clock. I think, feel, and act thirty-something most of the time. I'm neither proud of nor embarrassed by this. It just is. We all do it.
But truth be told, I've apparently been "middle-aged" for awhile. According to Social Security Administration statistics, the average American woman checks out from Mother Earth at around eighty-six years old. This means that I've been "middle-aged" for more than a decade already, I just never thought much about it.
For days and days I dwelled on this new moniker, and not in a good way. The mind is an all-powerful thing, and before I knew it I had started self-identifying as "middle-aged," my thirty-something gal long gone. I began feeling older, slower, less fun, less adventuresome, less attractive, and with more aches and pains. I began to wonder what people saw when they looked at me -- an old lady with wrinkles and two chins -- rather than my thirty-something-year-old self. The self-deprecation wasn't pretty; no more so than wearing gold lamé shorts “at my age.”
Thankfully, I managed to get a grip. While finishing off a workout at the gym I began musing about when being "middle-aged" became a bad thing? “Wait just a minute!” I thought. "I may be 'middle-aged,' but I am smarter, more confident, and more focused on the things worth focusing on than ever before."
For example, I take care of my body now more than ever because I understand the importance of doing so. Yes, my lifetime focus on fitness got me the bragging rights of arriving at "middle-age" wearing the same size jeans I wore in college. But more importantly, I now know what a huge payoff fitness is in the battle against chronic illness. Being “middle-aged" sometimes brings health challenges along with it, and I have learned to never take my health for granted; something my thirty-something-year-old did without thinking.
"Middle-age" also means I’ve also grown wiser and stronger; not just physically, but mentally and spiritually as well. I see the cycle of life more clearly, anticipating both its joys and travails. I know enough to appreciate the bliss in each moment and to hold sorrow in its place, because both are fleeting. There is an ebb and flow to all things; something it takes decades to truly understand.
Accumulating years allows us to grow and learn and evolve to the point where we are no longer searching and grasping for this or that but are comfortable with ourselves and our choices. And we know how to make better choices than ever have before.
Though I'm admittedly slow on the uptake with regard to matters of aging, being "middle-aged" is quite obviously a state to embrace, not rebuff. Okay, I get it. I’m in.
But you still might catch me in those gold lamé shorts now and then.