Sunday, June 10, 2012

Birthday: Mid-Life Edition

I've been thinking a lot about birthdays this week. Mostly it's because my birthday was this past week. Before getting on with these evenings musings of an irreverent (and aging) psychologist, why not return to the scene of my original birthday for a couple of moments? Here I am with my mom and dad, two days old, and just a little squished up bundle of potential. 

It dawned on me that I passed a tipping point somewhere between these pictures and today. I stopped growing and started decaying. There were no parties on that day--no cakes were eaten, no cards were received, and no party hats were worn. There were no forms of recognition and no fanfare on that day when I crossed the invisible line. 

Science guides me to think that tipping point happened sometime in my mid 20s. My body was developmentally at it's strongest. My brain was at the apex of its ability to process information. With that in mind, the moment I crossed that line probably happened somewhere in Vermont. I was a graduate student working on the first masters degree that I would complete.

Here, if you look closely, is me around the time of the peak of my physical development. As you can see, my hair was also near the maximum length of its development.

It's bothered me, a little bit, to realize I am decaying. This realization isn't a particularly delightful thought.  What's worse is that I have also recognized that from an actuarial standpoint, there are more years on the road behind me than there are on the road ahead of me.

Bummer. If I live a normal life expectancy I'm actually a little more than half way dead. 

Double bummer. 

All things decay. I've known this in an intellectual way for most of my life. However, it wasn't until recently that I've learned to find comfort in knowing since I too am thing, I shall decay. It's not as if I really have a choice in the matter. I'll decay just the same, whether I want to or not.

The hints of my decay are hovering around the edges of my perception.  There are the inevitable aspects of decay. They are cosmetically annoying. The dark hair that suddenly burst forth from my chest and face announcing the arrival of a new man is gradually turning grey with the frost of age. There are also the unexpected aspects of decay. I've  begun to notice the subtle ways my middle-aged self is either invisible to younger people or commands an unexpected authority--an authority that I've not yet learned to be entirely comfortable with. 

There is something else I've discovered too. Somewhere in this time, between the summer and autumn of my life, I'm finding the joys of adulthood. What are these joys? Keats suggests our adulthood, the long autumn of our lives, is the season that ripens the fruit, harvests the fruit and makes the music.

I'm hope I have plenty of life left to make the transition from summer to autumn. I think I have some pretty good crops that can be ripened and harvested. The music sounds good, too. 

This makes the grey hair a very welcome sign--a sign of the harvest that is yet to come. In the end, it's the spaces between growing and decaying that life really happens--every moment--every day. I'm not entirely convinced that we could even have a life if we didn't also have decay and death.

There is not beginning without and ending.

Plus their is always hair dye, should all else fail. 

To Autumn
by John Keats

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,-
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

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