A single (screen) shot at life
Do you remember the first time you were made aware of becoming older? No longer invincible, immune to the effects of time? Maybe it was a child who made you feel this way, a small person who thought 30 might as well be 80. Or perhaps it was being called ma’am for the first time by a teen-aged store clerk. Was it the first breath-taking sighting of gray hairs on your head that tipped you off, or a well-meaning aunt pointing out that you’re not getting any younger and your eggs will soon be too old to make babies?
I remember clearly the first time I realized it was indeed happening to me and could not be escaped… aging, the headlong march to death. I had gone in to see a dermatologist for a general check up (probably because Oprah or Katie Couric said I should) but mostly to check on these funny little lines on the pads of my finger tips. Having been a child with sensitive and problem skin -bouts of impetigo and excema so bad that I would miss school- I was used to discovering strange rashes and using special creams and washes. I was certain these dry, craggy lines were some sort of creepy crawly rash or undiagnosed skin cancer. But the kind and thorough doctor was more than a little amused to break the news to me that my skin was simply aging and that the lines were normal and irreversible. There it was. Plain and simple, the first visible effects of aging, diagnosed by a medical professional. I did not take it well.
That was over five years ago, and if I look closely now I can see that hairline crosshatch design across almost my entire palm. Of course since that particular dermatologist visit, I’ve been back and had cancer cells and precancerous cells removed and been scolded for my youth in the sun that has caused so much more damage than I ever anticipated, but should have. Gray hairs have been spotted, crows-feet and smile lines are threatening to settle in, and a chinny-chin hair or two has appeared (and swiftly dealt with, FYI, lest you start to imagine my near future as a bearded troll under a bridge, capturing small juicy children for dinner. Scary.) Where was I? Oh yes… those little lines on my fingers seem very silly now indeed.
The other day I made a simple Excel spreadsheet with years running across the top and each of my family members’ names down the side. I filled in every box all the way across with our ages at any given year. I also added rows for my kids’ school years. I saw in black and white that my husband and I will be 48 when our youngest two graduate from high school; in 2034 when our oldest turns 30, we will turn 57. Simple math, but seeing it spread out across a single screen is daunting. I saw with clarity that it is highly likely that Kenn’s and my parents won’t meet their great-grandchildren, and might even be gone before their grandchildren’s college graduations, if only average life expectancies are met. It’s amazing to me how little space these life spans take up on the screen, how few “columns” we have left.
I’ve done this exercise before but usually don’t save the file, or I save it and subconsciously “lose” it by burying it in another worksheet. But this time I labeled it and have put it in a prominent spot on my computer. Denial or fear of aging and death won’t do me or my family any good. Instead I’m choosing to take a conscious and clear look at the next 40-50 years and try to make the best of them. I gotta say, it feels good to face reality so clearly, to imagine the possibilities of those years and to reconcile that we might not even get them at all. I highly recommend it- it’s easy and free and- who knows- might even spare you a cliched midlife crisis.