Believe it or not, I’ve never considered Bill Cosby much of a philosopher. However, when I ran across the title of this week’s inaugural column it made me laugh and decide that neither Sartre nor Camus could have made that particular point any better than the man who gave me Fat Albert in childhood and Dr. Cliff Huxtable during adolescence.
But it’s true, isn’t it? When you think back to your childhood, who seemed old? Your grandparents, sure, but probably your parents, too. When you reach a certain age - say, 44 - and look back, how scary is it to realize that you’re older than your parents were when you thought they were already over the hill?
About five years ago, before I had even turned 40, I worked in an office with a 24-year-old guy who referred to me one day as “middle-aged.” At the time, I wouldn’t have been more offended if he had made a comment about the one black hair that I have to pluck from my chin line once every couple of months.
And yet the fact that my first thought was to put him over my knee and tan his little hide didn’t set off any alarms in my head to warn me that It - this so-called “middle age” to which the cheeky boy referred - might be coming.
I’d always considered middle age to be something that could only happen to others, like going to prison or sitting through a movie starring Kevin Costner. In my mind, "Those People" were either divorced and comically bitter or married and deeply unhappy. They never listened to music recorded after “Abbey Road” was released.
Middle-aged people thought everyone should care about seeing pictures of their grandbabies. They made their yappy dogs wear sweaters in the winter and shaved their longhaired cats in the summer.
Middle-aged people? They were the ones who were obsessed with timely oil changes and tire rotation. Oh, and doilies. They love their doilies, I used to muse.
Technically, “middle age” can vary from one gender to another and all types of socio-economic groups to another and even from one country to another. In the USA, life expectancy rates are depressingly disparate, as evidenced by the 84 years a woman in Hawaii can live versus the 78 years most women in West Virginia might somehow reach.
Either way, I’m already past the “middle” of those two life spans.
For me, to acknowledge such a thing is to boldly admit that middle age comes to everybody. And like everyone on either side of the age-spectrum, middle-aged people come in different shapes and sizes and abilities to tolerate Miley Cyrus.
When I started writing my former column for this newspaper, I was 32 years old. That was not quite 15 years ago, but I do wonder if I thought of the people I knew then who were the age I am, now, to be middle-aged.
It’s possible. Honestly, though, I don’t remember. Because back then, when I whipped myself into a frenzy of fear and disgust each week about the political landscape at that time, I was distraught about one thing only: the complete destruction of our country by a barely literate draft-dodger and Darth Vader’s meaner, less friendly brother.
“Don’t Get Me Started!” was the valve release on my crazy-pipes, what kept me from letting pure panic rule my every decision and action.
While I wouldn’t say I’m completely “over it” when it comes to the eight years our country suffered under a Bush-Cheney administration, I can say that I’ve “moved on.”
So put away your hammers (good for smashing windshields, am I right?) and poison pens (thanks for all the hate mail!). Please know that if I wake up in a cold sweat these days, it’s not about what the President is doing but because my body is changing in horrifying but not wholly unexpected ways.
(Full disclosure: I sometimes get a sick feeling in my stomach that overpowers my sense of “hope” and belief in “change.”)
No, dear readers, this time you’re going to have to deal with the kind of sludge that oozed from my mind when I realized I needed to get bifocal lenses in my glasses. Rather than freaking out because a Democratic senator from my state has voted in favor of the most conservative Supreme Court judge currently sitting, I’m now freaked out about the reality that I’m one generation away from signing up for Medicare. (And, I’ll admit, still a little freaked out that “W” wanted to privatize it.)
So which is true: “You’re only as old as you feel” or “Youth is wasted on the young”?
There’s no definitive answer to that, but I - like everyone else - will probably die trying to come up with one.