I was driving this morning, running yet more errands with the boy belted in the back seat. I was delivering a raucous outburst along the lines of my own idiocy and forgetfulness and lack of focus (I’ve delivered a number of these lately) and this outburst was more vociferous than usual because it was the third or fourth time that morning that I’d experienced my own shortcomings.
First it was the misplaced keys. I suppose they weren’t truly misplaced, because I knew where they were: in the right pocket of the coat I wore yesterday. That’s where I always leave my keys. But why do I keep doing it? Then, I remembered a paper I needed and had to go grab that from upstairs while my patient son sat strapped in his car seat. And then, as we headed to our destination, I got in the wrong lane and ended up going in the opposite direction, away from the store I’d meant to visit.
That was the point that drove me to vocal uprising—that final wrong turn that took me away from where I’d been headed. I wound down the declaration of my frustration, and tried, not for the first time, to explain to Marcus why I was so angry. “I’m not angry at you, Honey—you know that, right? Mommy gets frustrated because she’s not able to think as well as she used to.” And he said he understood, although Lord knows if he does; I’m sure if he’s sitting in therapy some day, he’ll think back on my self-abusive tirades and blame them for something deficient in him.
My waning brain is cause for alarm, though, if not for diatribes. I used to be a clear thinker, able to catalog lots of tasks, and put things back where they belonged, and make certain I was in the correct lane and that the day’s events were mapped out neatly and efficiently, in geographical order… No more. It just isn’t happening like that these days. And I don’t have a newborn to blame, don’t have a gaggle of children hollering and throwing things in the mini-van, don’t take any meds. I’m just not as capable as I used to be.
That goes for all areas. Not as thin, not as limber, not as pain-free, not as able to go without rest. I’m not as.
It made me picture a typical human life of average duration as a mountain of sorts, or even a bell curve (remember, I used to teach). It seems we spend the first half striving to acquire things that we hunger for: basic skills, then knowledge, coordination, perspective, increasing freedoms and permissions. We work for all those years on “arriving.”
I don’t know if I even realized when I had arrived—does anyone? For many of us, there’s no a-ha moment of achievement. Unless you’ve earned bank presidency at a young age, or have been hired to coach for the NFL when you still have little kids at home, or find yourself aboard your own yacht while you’re still agile enough to handle the thing neatly and swim ashore if it sinks—unless you’re extraordinary in some way, it’s quite possible you’ll reach the pinnacle of your arrival and completely miss it.
You’ll figure out soon enough if it’s passed, though—oh, you’ll figure that out without any problem. You’ll start to notice brain misfires and malfunctions, you’ll start to make involuntary noises when you stand up from a squat, you’ll notice your skin beginning to sag here and there where once it was firm. You’ll play a sport some weekend and suffer for the next week. You’ll stay out too late one night and suffer sleep disturbances for days. You’ll look around one morning at work and realize that, if you’re lucky, you’ll still be here in this cubicle many years from now, vainly yearning for that corner office. You’ll stop talking about traveling around the world.
Then you’ll know, in your heart, that you’ve passed that point: your own personal zenith.
But there are advantages to aging, to becoming seasoned. I’ll tell you what they are as soon as I can remember them.