Some of my best childhood memories are hiking in the Rocky Mountains with my parents, younger siblings, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. In the moment, of course, I complained and whined practically the entire time, tired, hungry, hot, sticky, bothered, and impertinent. Now that the actual experience is far behind me, I only focus on the happy parts, the smell of the clean, powdery dirt mingling with the pleasantly pungent pine, the playful, cold mountain breeze tousling my fine brown hair and cutting through the heavy summer heat trickling down my temples. I especially loved the exhilaration of running down the trail after the interminable tromp up the mountain. The thrill never lasted long, of course, because my parents, somehow possessed of an excess of eyes, instantly shouted at me to stop running, that I’d trip and break my head or fall straight off the edge of the trail. I’d always reluctantly stop, rebelling inside my thoughts that I wouldn’t trip, I knew what I was doing, I’d be just fine. But what a glorious few seconds I’d had feeling gravity begin to launch me down the winding trail!
As an adult I am thankful for my parents’ constant care. I now have no doubt whatsoever that had they let me continue sprinting down the rocky slope, in no time I’d have run right past my ability to stop or even keep my footing, shooting headling into a very unhappy ending. Pondering those happy memories, I recently realized that I’ve unknowingly been on another descent, careering downward and now well out of control. There was nothing I could have done to stop this mad rush, and I can’t decide if I’d rather have continued on without realizing how little control I actually have. It’s probably pointless to consider, since the realization is probably as inevitable as the plunge.
Of course, I’m talking about getting older. I’m in my mid 40s now. In my 20s, I still felt young and strong. In my 30s, I knew I’d left youth behind, but I didn’t miss it all that much. In my 40s, however, my body has begun to change, losing vigor with the swiftness of a falling stone. Presbyopia has snatched the clarity from my previously perfect vision. Minor injuries have become chronic pains that I am beginning to doubt will ever truly leave me. And as these frailties accumulate, I finally comprehend the inevitability of senescence with the intensity of a runaway freight train hurtling through my brain.
I was depressed, at first, as I think many of us are, but then I realized that while old age is going to take me, it won’t be all at once. I’m celebrating the rapidly diminishing parts of my body that still work, knowing that sooner or later (spoiler: sooner!) they won’t. I’ve closed my eyes and turned my face toward the sky, reveling in the wind as it whips ever faster through my rapidly thinning hair, weakened ankles and knees pumping out of control down a trail whose unfathomable end is coming, and quicker than I’d like. I’m sure people in their 50s, 60s, and up are probably having a chuckle at my despair, knowing I have no idea how bad it’s actually going to get, but that ignorance is precisely what I’m celebrating. It’s going to get bad, real bad, no question, but there’s not a thing I can do about it, so see you at the bottom, and in the meantime, wheeeeeeeeee!