I am now middle aged.

I had a birthday a week ago.  38.  This is one of the big ones.  When I was 37, I could still tell myself that I was in my mid-thirties.  Now, there’s no denying that I’m almost forty.  Having reached that milestone, forty itself shouldn’t be a shock.  I guess I’m middle aged now; the long decline has begun.  And the amount of time left I’ve got left to do something distinct and creative is comparable to the amount of time I’ve failed to do any such thing; I can’t tell myself anymore that I’m still new and learning the ropes.  I’m imagining the next psychologically big birthday will be when I’m 58.

Getting old itself doesn’t bother me (not that I’ve really thought through what it will mean to have a progressively deteriorating body).  I’ve always felt like an old man trapped in a young man’s body.  Even as a schoolboy, it felt weird that I couldn’t complain about “those damned kids nowadays” because I technically was one.

What does bother me is my lack of accomplishments here at the halfway point.  I really should work harder.  And I should stop pissing away so much time on the web and my weblog.  I won’t though.

That I’m halfway to death is also disquieting, and this disquiet will hopefully be a spiritually fruitful thing.

When you’re young and you look back on your life, and it seems like you’ve done and experienced so little, you say to yourself “there’s so much more to me than that”.  This “so much more” that somehow didn’t get recorded in your life history to date is presumably inscribed on your future.  When you turn middle aged, your life as a whole is starting to come into view, and you realize that you’ve got to find meaning in the life you actually lived.

One day, when I was in my twenties, I was riding in a car with my mother and maternal grandfather.  My grandfather was still alive then, in his late seventies, relatively healthy.  I remember he made this offhand comment like “You know, it doesn’t seem like I’ve been alive for seventy-[whatever] years.  It doesn’t feel like nearly that long.”  That scared me.

13 Responses

  1. “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3 12-14)

    It is in this spirit that the Imitation says, “da mihi nunc hodie perfecte incipere, quia nihil est, quod hactenus feci – Grant me now, this very day, to begin perfectly, for thus far I have done nothing.”

  2. What would you consider success? You have “published” some excellent essays on this weblog. How many people really make their mark in physics?

  3. […] Source: Throne and Altar […]

  4. Happy Birthday! You’re heading into the stage of life when not very much happens. In the first stage, from 0 to 18 or so, you undergo tremendous physical and psychological changes, but socially you remain very much the same–essentially your parents’ child. In the second stage, which runs up to right about where you are now, the great changes are all social. Your body and mind don’t change much, but you become a spouse, a parent, a member of a profession or trade. Then, for the next twenty years or so, not much happens. You will notice some physical and mental decay as you near 50, and you may well enjoy some minor triumphs in your work, but for the most part you will feel as if you are on an interstate highway with the cruise control on (and the accelerator disabled). The on-ramp with its exhilarating acceleration is behind you, the off-ramp with its depressing deceleration is still far ahead. It’s good if you are in a good place when you’re 38, because chances are you’re going to be in very much the same place when you’re 58. In about ten years you will begin to see signs for your exit ramp. For me the first one was reading glasses, the second was seeing myself in a video and noticing how stiffly I moved. We had children late, but just thinking about them moving from stage one to stage two is a sign for me. I’m about to turn 57, so I’m nearing the end of the stage you’re beginning, and nearing the beginning of the stage where all the changes will be changes for the worse. Middle age isn’t at all bad, provided you begin middle age in the social position you wish to be in. But the satisfactions of middle age are not the satisfactions of young adulthood, and those who think they will be are those who have a spectacular mid-life crisis. The two stages of “becoming” are over. Next comes the stage of being, then of not-being.

  5. You should have more children. That’s your legacy. Not physics.

  6. @JMSmith

    I found your meditation beautiful and true.

  7. JMsmith:

    You’re heading into the stage of life when not very much happens.

    I’m sure that’s the norm, but I had to chuckle. For me, 35 is right when the ‘material accomplishment’ war ended with a whimper (my experience is not the norm there though) and the relentless spiritual war began. I’m about to turn 49, and I’ve passed through the Looking Glass at least three times since I ‘retired’ at 35. If I am around when I am 90, I expect I will still have a sword in one hand and a mop-and-bucket in the other. Not by choice, because I am naturally quite lazy and would love to just rest on a beach with a Mai Tai, a good book, a cigar, and my dog. I could easily afford to, materially. But there is no arguing with fate or Providence.

    If you have a ‘normal’ middle age, thank Providence for that.

    As far as deteriorating bodies go though the me of today could easily out-compete the 30’s me athletically. Barring a major medical misfortune our bodies are a lot more sustainable for a lot longer than ‘average’ folks think: as usual the forces of modernity are your enemy, even here.

    Buy a bicycle – a decent one, not some low end piece of crap. Low impact, great exercise, see the countryside, go farther on your own power than you ever thought you could. Ride a century every summer. Eat a high fat, moderate protein (150g or less), zero sugar/starch diet. No non-fiber carbs except leafy greens, not even fruit, < 30-50 grams (excluding fiber) a day total. Give yourself a 'free day' to eat what you want without gorging, no more than once a month. Stay away from the pharmacological tar baby, if at all possible. If you can't stay away, keep it to a minimum and assume that every word out of every doctor's mouth is a lie straight from the mouth of Hell until you can prove otherwise through your own due diligence. Understand that 'alternative medicine' is only better than mainstream medicine because it is less likely to permanently harm or kill you, not because it isn't mostly hippy lunacy. The most likely things to kill you are (in order) heart disease, cancer, and medical doctors — and that is without normalizing out how many deaths by heart disease and cancer are themselves caused by doctors (e.g. through prescription of poisons which cause diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc).

    But the satisfactions of middle age are not the satisfactions of young adulthood, and those who think they will be are those who have a spectacular mid-life crisis.

    Wise words.

    Even more, do not look to this world for satisfactions. There is no hope to be found there. Don’t get me wrong, this world has many satisfactions — satisfactions which inevitably disappoint those who seek them and delight those who happen upon them as gratuitous gifts.

    Happy birthday, Bonald.

  8. What does bother me is my lack of accomplishments here at the halfway point. I really should work harder. And I should stop pissing away so much time on the web and my weblog. I won’t though.

    I can identify with this whole article, but particularly this part. It’s important to remember that your self-worth should not be tied 100% to your accomplishments. If you feel like you’re not getting enough done, try to directly face how much of this is real and how much is just corrosive self-criticism. Have love, compassion, and patience for yourself; you are a limited, mortal, flawed creation just like the rest of us.

    Then, if you do finally decide that part of it is real, try to face how to change it (and how much it can realisticly be changed) as opposed to just feeling bad about yourself.

  9. What does bother me is my lack of accomplishments here at the halfway point.

    Bonald, doesn’t this betray a modern mindset that you are always speaking against? That in a meritocracy, the things that define your worth are your accomplishments.

    But what I’ve learned from you is that it is our roles and duties that give our life meaning. You are a father and a husband. That’s ‘accomplishment’ enough!

  10. Great post and replies that I take to heart; I’m 40 in two weeks. I behave differently and have gotten wiser, but all in all I feel like the same person I was when I was 12.

  11. Happy Birthday, Bonald! And thanks for “pissing away so much time on the web”.

  12. JMSmith,

    I hadn’t thought of it that way before, but your divisions make sense for an average life. (Radical changes of status are, of course, still possible. Wish me luck on my upcoming tenure review, by the way.)

  13. Zippy – I live in a very bicycle friendly city. The issue is having to crane the neck back in order to see the road. It hurts and feels very unnatural. High handlebars reduce this but also reduce the efficiency of it all.

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