As of today, all of my immediate classmates (and many of my friends) from elementary school, middle school, high school and Pitt are at least thirty-nine years old. Meaning that ’09 is year forty for us. Within the next 365 days, all of us (hopefully) will turn the big 40. One of my former classmates has called this her “40 f-its.” Meaning that when she turns forty this year, she’s just going to say “f-it” to anything that she would normally kvetch or worry about. Another recently listing forty as her “new twenty-one.” Some in the press have been calling 50 the new forty and 40 the new thirty.
I guess that you are as young as you think and feel about yourself. But that doesn’t completely take care of the wear and tear that occurs over the course of four decades. Oh, how much wear and tear can there be after thirty-nine plus years? Well, considering that some of us didn’t make it to see year forty because of such things as a mental illness, homelessness, AIDS, poverty, drugs, suicide, criminal activities and other issues, I’d say it’s a pretty big deal. Some of us have already dealt with major illnesses no doubt. A few of us have faced hard times at some point in the past ten or twenty years. A fair number of us probably don’t understand who we are in terms of race or religion, sexual orientation or political affiliation. Some of us still might not care about any of this. For them the past two decades may well be a blur of relationships and raves, where they mark their days with parties and dates and other temporary highs.
I’ve concluded that for the most part, mine is a body that miraculously doesn’t reflect my age. As of yesterday afternoon, I dragged my 230 pound carcass on to a treadmill and ran 3.9 miles, only stopping to walk after 3.5 of them for a moment. I’ve only been able to run three miles or more since I turned thirty-five. I’ve been consistent with my weight training for the past five and a half years, mostly to keep my knees joints and leg muscles intact (otherwise I would’ve needed realignment surgery years ago). But also so that I’d be in good enough shape to keep up with my son Noah, who’s now old enough to play soccer, shoot a basketball, and can throw a football about ten or twelve yards.
There are times when I’d like to say “f-it, I don’t want to work out today.” Or see another treadmill or make another futile attempt at figuring out why I’m a streak jump shooter. Then I look at my son’s classmates’ parents. They’re around the same age, but I look about a decade younger than them. Then I remember some of the folks who I went to Pitt with, some of whom have suffered major illnesses because of their weight and because they refused to exercise. I think about that and the fact that I still want to be able to beat Noah at basketball when I’m in my mid-forties and he’s old enough to dunk on me.
But despite my relatively good health, I’ve discovered a few things over the years. I have mild asthma, and have likely had it since I was four or five. Back then, I suffered from nose bleeds and the occasional “fainting spell.” Boy has medicine and my knowledge thereof come a long way since ’75. I can’t seem to get to 218 or 222 pounds without working out more than four times a week, a lot between work, writing, looking for work, and my wife and son. I have allergy issues living in the drained swamp that is the DC area. I have IBS (irritable bowel syndrome, if folks must know) issues that are mostly due to my body’s unconscious coping with stress, which I know developed during my teenage years at 616 and in my gifted track years. I just didn’t notice until grad school because I didn’t have many food options until then.
And I’ve inherited knee issues from my mother’s side that I’ve luckily curtailed with weights and exercise. My uncles, all high school — and in one case, college and professional — athletes, have needed to have their knees drained of excess fluid, knee surgeries to clear away debris and torn cartilage, and even knee replacements. I lucked out because I only tried out for sports in high school, didn’t take up basketball seriously until I was twenty-two, and have been using weights off and on thanks to a body-builder friend and a weight training class since ’91.
The bones, though, don’t lie, and neither do my dreams, nightmares and memories. I’m turning forty this year, with baggage that makes me feel every bit of that age and then some at times. Other times, other days, thankfully, the majority of days, I feel younger than I felt when I was thirty-one. I think I have God and Noah to thank for that. God because of what I’ve gone through and overcome, my son because I have to remain young enough to make sure that he has a future. Prayer helps, stretching and my pseudo-yoga helps (I know about a half-dozen Yoga positions), but having a kid teaching you in imperceptible ways how to be young again helps a lot too.
I have no resolutions for ’09. All of what I want to accomplish this year and in future years dates as far back as the Carter Years. So no cheesy attempts to lost ten or twelve pounds, no proclamations about book contracts or a second car, no statements about what I think needs to happen in the next 365 days. Sometimes it’s just better to be quiet and do what it is that you’ve been talking about instead of talking about it over and over again.
But I do have a prediction. I do think that ’09 will be better than ’08, if for no other reason than the psychological weight of having an idiot that I didn’t vote for out of the White House in nineteen days and three hours from now. I think that not having worked full-time for the past year has helped me reflect on my writing and career goals with more precision and clarity than ever before. I do think that I’m ready for the next phase of my life, one where I’m no longer young, but I’m not exactly old either.
Of course, this will change a bit in a few more years, certainly by the time my son figures out that I’m not “cool.” I’ll have to remind him that I’ve always been cool, and that he’s lucky to have a parent in good enough shape to dunk on him or heave a pass forty yards downfield for him to catch. That he’s lucky that I’m close enough in age and in circumstance to him to be as cool and and uncool as I am. I mean, to think that I was a senior in high school when my mother was my current age! Yet my thirty-nine was much younger than hers, for at least the obvious reasons of two awful husbands and six kids between three and twenty years old. If everything works out, I’ll be fifty-one by the time Noah graduates from high school. Much older than my mother was. But still a bit younger than my classmates’ parents were. Some of them looked and acted old enough to be my mother’s parents.
Despite it all, it’s a great time to be alive, to be my age and to have all of the opportunities I have to create opportunities, for myself and for Noah (and even for my wife). I’m not sure if I would trade that for being ten years younger.