“I haven’t seen her in 20 years!” said my 36 year old mother
I was about 10 years old when I remember hearing that. I was the oldest of two daughters. Turning 10 was a monumental time for my sister to have one up on me in the teasing department. The birthday card from my sister was handmade. She had taken some old wrapping paper with a clock design on it. The clock appeared to be ‘ticking away.’ When I opened it, it said, “You’re in the double digits now, time is ticking away, you old bag!” I have kept this card for the past 20 years.
Because that card induced a fit of uncontrollable laughter, it was not a relevant gauge of ‘getting old’ for me. My mother’s statement also did not resonate with meaning, until I uttered those same words years later! At the age of about 28, I met family friend after 20 years. I automatically uttered, “I haven’t seen you in 20 years!” As I uttered those words, I was transported back to the time my mother said those words to someone else. I always had known that would be my ‘age gauge’—if I heard that statement come from my mouth, I must really, truly be old. But am I really old? Well, no! Thirty somethings laugh at 20 somethings for saying “I’m old.” Forty somethings laugh at 30 somethings for saying their old. It goes on and on like this. And of course, we 30 somethings are kids, possibly even babies to the wisdom of the 60 plus generations.
It is funny what as kids we assume about the world that isn’t true. It is even funnier what as adults we assume to be true about the world.
For instance, a friend of mine has a nephew. I met this kid when he was about 6 years old in 1998. Now this kid is 14. I saw his recent photo, he looks so grown up. He is not so cute of a kid anymore, he is a young man. But what is stuck in my head? This image of a more innocent 6 year old, naughty boy, having fun in life. This 14 year old is looking mature and is doing more serious things in life, like possibly preparing for college and thinking about a career. Our parents always think of us as their ‘kids’ and keep us engraved in their memory hopefully at a young age when we were brilliant, naughty, cute, smart, adorable or any of those other qualifiers that make us feel good inside. They also remember that small kids are not mature, need guidance, are vulnerable, need things done for them, and most of all, remember that as kids we were kids, though we all have grown up and become adults.
However, the other day I was posed a question- who else besides parents engrave us in their minds at a particular age and treat us that way based on some outdated memory? Well it is none other than our very selves. Sometimes we are not our own best cheerleaders. We are critical of ourselves, and base our present outcomes on past outcomes. Is this fair!? NO! We are not that person who made that mistake years upon years ago. We must accept that we made a mistake, rather than remember ourselves at that age we made that mistake and relive it and feel guilt for it. We are not that age, we are the age we are now. Though this sounds ridiculous, just think about this for a minute. How many of us have gotten down on ourselves for a mistake we made long ago? Or have worried about it so much that we actually repeat it out of habit, an inability to try something different, resistance to change or other reasons? Living in the present moment, in the now, we are not that person who made that mistake, that less mature, less wise, less experienced person than we are today. Part of that person is who we are today, but each person is defined differently in this moment than 5, 10, 15 years ago.
For these reasons, I am quite content to say I have grown older. Hopefully, I can say with my age comes wisdom. Part of this wisdom is understanding I am not 10, 20, 28, but 31. At 31 I am such and such a type of person with such and such attributes, I am not those other ages. Those other ages helped me gain the wisdom of today, not be trapped in the lack of wisdom in my past. Maybe this wisdom is a better gauge of age than mere numbers. Numbers help humans understand time, but not the timeless aspect of wisdom!