The slow but sure movement towards a measurable manifestation of the fact that every day you give less and less of a fuck what other people actually think and are more and more willing to speak your mind.
Some days 20. Other days 80.
It’s been two years since I wrote a week of lists, but I thought I would start this last four months of 2016 with revisit to that old meme. So, starting on the first, the eighth edition of the Week of Lists begins, called the “Turning 40ish Edition” with deep and engaging topics such as this one…
I started running (seriously) when I was just around 30ish. In that vein, my thirties have been defined by this sport in which I’ve chosen to participate. Through it I’ve changed my whole life: I’m healthier than I was in my twenties, I have a wider circle of friends, I meet people because of running and I make professional contacts because I run and know other random corporate folks who run. It’s been a wild trek through the fast footfalls of this random sport and the wonderful culture that swirls quietly around it.
But almost ten years in… well, I see 40ish approaching on the horizon and while logically I know it’s just a number, an age, a minor intersection on the single-track trails of life, there is this acknowledgement, in my runner’s mind, that sometimes an uncharted trail changes, gets steeper, curves in a way that you weren’t quite expecting… at least not expecting if you don’t take a minute to plan and ponder where those curves might appear.
Such as that…
5. I Can Suddenly Feel Every Joint Every Morning
You’re not getting any younger. None of us are. I go to sleep each night trying to find a position that isn’t going to leave me waking up in the morning with a crick or a cramp in a strange muscle that I didn’t remember existed until I slept on it wrong. I don’t remember doing this ten years ago. I don’t remember waking up just achy from sleeping. I mean, it’s not a chronic ailment… well, unless you classify aging as a chronic ailment that is. I don’t want to alarm you and make you think I need to see a doctor or whatever. I’m just in a 40 year old body that takes a licking through a desk-sit job all day and a stupidly optimistic marathon training program at night. I need to cross-train more, but I wake up at five thirty to do that and it still takes me thirty minutes just to feel normal. *grumble, grumble, old man comments* People keep telling me that you know you’re 40(ish) because your hearing, eyesight, taste, and all those fun thing start to decay, suddenly and aggressively. I don’t know if that’s true, I guess I’ll find out… but if my creaky morning joints are any indication it doesn’t bode well from here on in.
4. I Take Longer to Mend
I was sick this past winter. I had this deep cough that hung into my lungs for a solid two months. Maybe it lingered so long because I tried to run through it… not push through it like a wall, but just keep up the base fitness level in between fits of coughing and terrible sleepless nights. Two months. Two. Frigging. Months. Sick, it seems, used to mean a bad weekend or a half a box of decongestant before you rejoined the land of the living. Yet as 40ish approaches my body seems to have taken a more casual approach to immunity: I not only went through more than one box of decongestant, I actually became a decongestant connoisseur, a virtual expert on the various brands and blends, and their effects on my mind and body. And then, of course, climbing back out of that training deficit was a pain in the ass.
3. Missing Work Costs Just More When You’re Older
And I’m not even just talking about money here. My jobs have always tended to be a me-and-the-trees kinda situation, but when I was younger my work was usually a little more patient. With age comes responsibility… maybe. Or maybe you’re someone plugging away at a small business. No one steps up and steps into backfill the kind of job many professional 40ish-ers have. No one steps in to do your work when you take a week off, either to go to Disneyland or ice your Achilles tendon because you can’t put any weight on it since running stairs the other morning, no matter how much fun that was. Realistically there are simply just fewer people who can (or will) do you job when you are sidelined. So… to points 4 and 5 above, it’s no longer just a week of binge watching on Netflix: it’s the associated worry that comes with a work vacancy due to a hobby. Explain that to the project manager who wants to know where their status update stands.
2. The Field Gets Increasingly Serious
One of the neatest guys I run with is this older dude who shows up on Sunday mornings and then shows us up on Sunday mornings. He’s told us his age a few times and I should know, but let’s say, easily, conservatively, 70-something. He jokes that when he races he always places in his age category: usually first… and simultaneously last. Only. I asked him how he ran in his prime. In his 40s he was running 2:30ish marathons. Which is hard core, if you don’t know marathons: not Olympic speeds, but enough to place in something like the Edmonton Marathon today. I run with a lot of people in their 30s and 40s. A bunch of people in that 50ish range. A couple people who are 60ish who can clean the floor with me. One guy who is 70ish who runs circles around us. The field gets narrower and stronger. And not that I’m looking to place, but unless I’m some magical outlier to this trend, I either need to get faster… or age is going to kick me to the curb sooner than I realize.
1. Life Seems Busier
Ultimately I know it all comes down to priorities. Setting them. Keeping them. Putting time into yourself and being a little selfish about a handful of hobbies that keep you from becoming a burned out wreck of a human being who is unbearable to be around. But 40ish hits in stride and (it being September this is acutely obvious) life gets jam packed with a rigid schedule of kid, work, activities, family obligations, and commitments. We need to shop for renovation stuff at the moment. Next week I need to spend a couple hours getting a the annual maintenance done on the truck. The lawn needs mowed. The garden needs tending. I have evening events planned on Saturday, Sunday, and Thursday. Kid needs to be here. Wife needs to be there. So-and-so wants to do dinner. This weekend is packed and the next three have tentative plans that involve travel and eating and sitting around not actually training for that race I’m supposed to run. Deep breath. So, yeah… priorities. Planning. And being a little selfish seem like the words of the next decade.
40… we’ll work it out, I know.
The days tick away.
Though to be honest I’m a little more panicked about the fact I’m running the New York Marathon exactly 17 days before my 40th birthday than I am about my 40th birthday itself.
It’s still there. Lurking. In the back of my mind. Getting old… but not really. Just older. Old-ish.
I looked myself up on this little demographics chart I stumbled across the other day. It doesn’t have the fidelity to measure things down to the day or month, but at some point between my 39th and 40th birthday I (apparently) will cross an invisible threshold where exactly fifty percent of the population is older than me and fifty percent is younger than me.
I’m currently at some point between my 39th and 40th birthday.
So, let’s say that roughly, right now, this is where I stand: I’m straddling this line wherein every person I meet has a 50/50 chance of being either younger than me or older than me. Half the world is my junior. Half the world is my senior.
I’m smack-dab in the middle.
Oldish. Older than half the people around me.
How would you feel about that?
Age is mostly just some arbitrary — yet bizarrely consequential — thing.
We count our trips around the sun, bunch those trips into groups based on nothing much more grounded than the number of fingers we humans just happened to have evolved on our hands, and then we use those bunches to, with the significance of our passage through what isn’t really much more than our insignificant flickers of conscious life, mark a grand philosophical inquiry, all of it as we search for a deeper meaning to these same happenstance trips around the sun.
As I join the ranks of those who temporarily feel the crush of time, passing years and decades, all of it as I prepare to pass yet another age-based milestone in a few short months, I reflect: I’ve gone digging through the pages of this vast information chasm for something that might ground that passage for me. Advice. Insight. Hope. Fears. Meaning. Rules or fragments of a how-to manual for something that was supposed to have made sense by now.
There isn’t much.
I don’t want to leave you with the impression that I’m crumbling under the weight of this inquiry. I’m not. I’m just speeding down a metaphorical highway and noting that the odometer of my life is about to roll over to some new number and, well, that it might be time to pull over to the side of the road for a few minutes and do a celebratory dance around the car.
Check the gas gauge.
Wave at a few other passing vehicles.
Kick the tires.
Keep on driving… right?
In two hundred and thirty days I’m turning 40. If you are among those who have already passed that milestone, you are likely quietly chuckling at your computer monitor as you read this. Forty is not a big deal, you think. Wait until fifty! Sixty! Ninety-nine, sonny! But if you are among those of my closer contemporaries, speeding right along with me towards this signpost, you get it.
You don’t want to make a big deal. You don’t want a big deal made. But, you want to know that as the curtain rises on the (symbolic if not actual) second half of your life, that the plot has been building to a coherent story.
Heather is to blame for this post. We were waiting to start our run last night and (in a conversation which I can’t remember the start or the end of) she asked me (for reasons I can’t quite recall) if I was coming up on 40 yet — because it was around 40ish when “you just stop caring how others think of you” … at least too much. There’s not really time for the judgement of someone who hasn’t lived your life all the way through and up until this moment: and no one else is actually paying that close attention anyhow.
I figured maybe I was about to enter some cranky-old-guy stage of life, spouting off about kids-these-days (which I literally did not two hours ago *gasp*) or something, and then I realized, y’know, I think I am actually worried about that. I haven’t been writing here as much because somewhere in my brain I’ve been filtering more, wedging my opinions and ideas up against the notion that society doesn’t really care what some almost 40ish guy has to say about the universe. Thinking (probably completely wrongly) that my best creative years are dragging behind me in a mess of cluttered choices and vague experience.
The engine light seemed to blinking a vague sort of warning, but maybe it was just telling me to fasten my seat belt.
And that was the problem with my quest to find out what-the-hell-is-up-with-40? on the internet. We nearly-40-year-olds are all at the cusp of careless over-caution & self-induced irrelevance: filtering, fretting, and second-guessing the flickering flames our our existence. As if anyone actually cares or is paying attention anyhow: but only a handful of people bother to scribble an “i wuz here” in the dusty wood of that mile marker of life.
So, as out of step with me as you almost certainly are, eventually most of us, the lucky ones at least, have already or will someday slide past that marker, roll over the old odometer of life (and I’m still assuming I will too) — but for me: I’m going to be making a few notes on my visit. Stay tuned.
Two hundred and thirty days. Blink and you miss it.
Aches, pains, strains, heavy hearts, blurry minds, fuzzy vision, dimming hearing, and realizing that there’s not much you can do about any of it… except fight every single day to stay healthy and strong.
Discovering new things that hurt for no good reason.
Knowing what you love.