In January I turned 55. As I said in a previous post, “I know that isn’t old age, but I think I’m starting to be able to see it from here.” Looking back at that post, I thought it was a funny way to phrase it, that advancing towards old age. As if I am standing on a hilltop or a bridge, shielding my eyes from bright sunlight, squinting into the distance, pointing out to my companions, “Just there, do you see it? No, a little to the right, come and look where I’m pointing. Just coming into view. Do you see it now?” And I suppose in some ways, that’s kind of how it’s happening. Me, pointing out to my friends how old age is less far away than it used to be, and them not necessarily seeing it straight away, pointing out a lot of other things about me that aren’t old age, that perhaps I am mistaken. And it’s not that I want to point it out to them, but in a lot of ways it’s essential.
Years ago at an annual physical appointment my doctor who is just a year older than me told me that she had to remind herself to consistently look at her patients’ ages because outwardly, no one seems to change. She used me as an example (which is only fair) saying that I look good, my skin still seems youthful, my dark hair the same colour as when she met me in 1993 (thank you, Willow Salon.) Going by the surface, she told me, most of her adult patients are in great shape.
Now, because she is a doctor it’s her job to look beneath the surface, way WAY beneath the surface at bone health and bloodwork and all those things that deeply matter in the realms of human health. And of course she does that with all her patients, but the comment stuck with me because that’s kind of the way we view our friends, isn’t it?
If you’re someone who has children or someone who is child-adjacent, you’re used to watching humans grow up and hit those childhood milestones of walking and talking and going to school and finding hobbies and all those things that make us people. You might say to your friend’s kid, “Hol-eeee are you ever getting tall!” or “Are those your shoes in the hallway or your dad’s?!” because it is expected that kids grow. They expand, their voices change, they might require braces or eyeglasses…and we notice. And even if we don’t point it out to them or to their parents, we notice. Because it makes sense to us. Kids grow and change. That’s the way it is.
But with our friends, it’s different. There are lots of milestones you can hit as an adult, but most of us don’t really like to talk about them. (First pair of reading glasses! First colonoscopy!) Once you turn fifty, the government ensures you don’t miss the milestones like mammograms and other cancer screenings, but that’s not nearly as exciting as your five-year old learning to ride a bike, is it?
I think it’s because to us, our friends are always constant. If not exactly the same age as when we met, at least the same general stage of life. Our memories of them can be poised at a certain time and place. Obviously if you and your friend met when you were ten, you likely don’t think of them as a ten-year old now (should you be reading this as an adult) but it seems to me there is a way of thinking about our friends that renders them ageless. And I think that’s wonderful. But it’s tricky, too.
I had some bloodwork done recently and when I got a call from my doctor to discuss my results, I knew something was up. And it was my cholesterol. (See what I did there?) We discussed a strategy to hopefully help reduce it, although she knows my family history of high cholesterol could mean that there is not a lot I can do, but it’s worth a try, of course. Between that and my (also partially inherited) high blood pressure, my risk for cardiovascular disease is especially high. And, as my doctor informed me in the nicest way possible, I am 55 years old. In case I’d forgotten. Some lifestyle changes need to be made.
And so I told my friends. And they were sympathetic, of course. And most of them aren’t “there” yet. I am the oldest of my friend group, so I am hitting these somewhat hidden milestones first. And I feel it’s my role as the Capricorn in the group to let them know the straight dope. (Big Grandpa Simpson “It’ll happen to you” energy right there.)
And along with that sympathy and understanding I also saw the disbelief in their eyes, because they too see me as I was when they first knew me twenty, twenty-five years ago. Which is lovely, of course. And with the disbelief also comes that realization and that acknowledgement that, to use a common phrase, we’re none of us getting any younger. Ageing is a betrayal, more or less. And yet there is also great privilege in ageing in a relatively healthy body and mind and I love that for me and for my friends. And it’s weird to think of us maneuvering into this next stage of life, too because wasn’t it just last year we were partnering up and having babies and finishing degrees and making bad choices and recovering from too-late nights at the bar with too many tequila shots? Spoiler: it turns out it was much longer ago than that.
My friends and I, we’re not ageless, but we are definitely timeless. And you are too. And wherever you are on the ageing path it’s good to remember that. That and your annual check-up at your doctor. You owe it to yourself. And to your friends.