While running this past weekend, I listened to an interview with a novelist who has recently received a lot of literary attention. At one point during the conversation, she commented that she wasn’t yet comfortable thinking of herself as middle-aged. “I know I’m not really young,” she said, “but I certainly don’t feel middle-aged either.”
Based on a couple of things the writer had said earlier in the interview, I inferred she was in her mid-thirties, and I remember feeling the same way ten years ago – surely this can’t be considered middle-aged! So I was surprised a moment later when she said she was forty-four. When I realized she was just four years younger than me, I suddenly had less empathy for her qualms about the term “middle-aged.”
“But you are middle-aged,” I thought to myself. “I am, too. Being middle-aged now, if you take it literally, means we expect to live to be ninety. Surely you don’t think we’re at less than half our life span at this point.”
Even though the term itself has negative connotations, I have to acknowledge that I’ve been comfortable with it for a couple of years now. In fact, I specifically remember the first time I applied the term to myself, in an essay in our local newspaper. The day after publication, the father of one of my high school classmates said to me, “You can’t possibly be middle-aged! Because if you’re middle-aged, so is my daughter, and she cannot possibly be middle-aged!”
I was a little puzzled by his protestations. His daughter and I were both forty-five. Was he assuming we would both live to be over ninety? That’s certainly possible, but not something I would readily assume.
Regardless of actual chronology, it’s simply a term whose overall mien I’ve become comfortable with as of late. Because indeed, I do feel these days like I am at many midpoints. As a parent, I feel precisely in between the phase of of raising children and the phase of looking back on it. My children are 12 and 16; it feels as if that puts me right at the midpoint between a parent-to-be and being a parent of grown children.
Career-wise, too, I’m fine with the idea I’m in the middle. It took me a while, but I’m at a pretty good point right now with my work; there’s a tremendous amount I’d still like to accomplish, but I think I’m okay with the thought that there’s about the same amount of progress yet to be made as already covered.
And in so many other ways, too. As far as world travel, I like the thought that geographically speaking, I’ve covered about half the ground I’m ever likely to cover. I’ve visited many interesting places; if the same number of forays into the world lies ahead as behind, I’m happy with that. Even physically. It took me four decades to become someone who could run a half-marathon. Now I’m at that point, but I don’t expect to stay there forever. I’ll start declining in my physical abilities eventually. But for now, where I am feels fine.
Middle-aged. It’s an un-lyrical word with unappealing connotations, and maybe that’s why the novelist in the interview rejected the term. Yet putting all that aside, I’m fine with thinking of myself in the middle. It’s realistic and it’s comfortable. Here I am, and here I’ll be for a little bit longer, and then, barring disaster, eventually I’ll be even older and no longer middle-aged. For now, this feels just about right.