Recommended reading soundtrack: Explosions in the Sky, “Your Hand In Mine”
“I had always heard your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. First of all, that one second isn’t a second at all, it stretches on forever, like an ocean of time… For me, it was lying on my back at Boy Scout camp, watching falling stars… And yellow leaves, from the maple trees, that lined our street… Or my grandmother’s hands, and the way her skin seemed like paper… And the first time I saw my cousin Tony’s brand new Firebird… And Janie… And Janie… And… Carolyn. I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me… but it’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst… And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life… You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry… you will someday.” Lester Burnham in the film “American Beauty.”
When I read that quote, when I hear the voice in that quote- no matter how many times- chills run through my body and tears well up in my eyes. This feeling, although emotional, is an indicator of truth for me. It epitomizes what the word “age” means to me. How can we put a value on aging in a culture that markets it as unwanted, something to be resisted? Every time I find my mind wandering into a fear about aging, I flashback to the version of myself at 21 and I remember how grateful I am to no longer be anywhere in the vicinity of that age. Kind of like Amanda Peet’s character in the movie “A lot Like Love” (a simple film, yes- but who doesn’t laugh their arse off when she runs into the sliding glass door?) where she is reminded of her punk rock stage in college where she dated angry musicians. Only I always ended up with drummers.
A Time Machine & Magical Spells
Remember Napoleon Dynamite’s brother who can’t let go of his high school football career and is in search of a time travel machine? I think I would rather endure a Harry Potter spell of vomiting slugs than go back in time. Especially to high school! Why? Because transformation really sweetens the deal in life, and no matter how difficult it gets, I now at least have the emotional tools to deal with things in a more balanced way. Not everyone has experienced life in the same way- but there is something about age that I just can’t resist deep down.
You Mean I’m going to die?
It is the life, the experience that determines the molding of our belief systems that correlate with our perception of what aging will yield to us. This includes our infinite potential- all possibilities. We have a tendency to limit our potential by thinking that age determines something in the abstract about who we are, how we have failed to live up to something that does not even exist. Do you let expectations about who you are “supposed” to be bring you down, and cloud your enjoyment of life as you age? Do you remember in your actions that with each day comes the possibility of a life ended?
Sometimes I feel like I am engaged in a race against time. “I have to get this done,” I tell myself. “If I don’t accomplish this- what will it say about me? Am I wasting this life? Am I fulfilling my human purpose to help people and make this world a better place?” These are all sound questions, but they can get in the way of simply enjoying life as well and seeing how your role unfolds through active, present engagement. It is the ego’s tendency to put the pressure on, but you can be sure that if you are putting the pressure on yourself to “be” something or “do” something, then you are impeding life’s natural flow and at the same time making yourself miserable.
It’s Question Time
Age. Perhaps the only pressure we should engage in with ourselves as we age should involve the amount of love we hold in our hearts like that balloon that is about to burst- for ourselves and the true beauty of our world as Lester Burnham suggests at the end of his life in American Beauty.
Perhaps we should ask ourselves, when was the last time that we felt “anything but gratitude for every single moment” in our lives and shared that gratitude with those around us? I am grateful for this moment that I am sharing with you, and hope that together we can approach age as a meaningful gift. I am also grateful for this opportunity to reflect on my own perception of aging and how it may limit me or empower me to live a life that is engaging and powerful.