Getting older is a funny thing. It’s not at all what I thought it would be. When I thought about it in my 20s and 30s.
Way back then, when I thought about getting older, it was something far, far off in the distance — like that wavery, shimmery image you sometimes see when you’re driving down a summer road and there are no other cars in sight. It’s there, but it’s not quite real.
Then, suddenly, it is there, right in front of you. The line on the horizon is clear and sharp and you see, plain as day, that there is a deer, or maybe a stray cow, standing in the middle of the road. You hammer on the brakes, your heart leaps into your throat, you nearly pee your pants, but, miraculously, you avoid a collision. The cow stares back, unperturbed; the deer flicks its white tail saucily and bounds daintily on its way.
You’re left shaking, maybe crying a little, glad that you’re alive, that the cow or the deer is alive and you restart the car and carry on your way. A lot more cautiously. And it occurs to you that life is unpredictable, and oh, so tenuous. You vow to be more careful, to pay better attention, to enjoy every moment given to you from that moment on.
But, as time passes the memory of that moment fades and you start wondering if it really happened the way you think it did. Was the cow or the deer really just standing there, or was it meandering across the road? Did you really screech to a halt in a panic, or did you simply tap the brakes as you swerved to miss the animal? Were you imagining the fear and the emotion of the moment, or did saying so just make for a better story?
Getting older, as it turns out, isn’t nearly as scary as I once imagined it would be. I mostly travel at a safe speed, pay better attention in my travels and tend to see things as they are, when they are.
Instead of not expecting the unexpected, or being unprepared to expect the unexpected, I’ve learned that just over the next rise, or just past that next shiny spot in the road is something that’s going to challenge me and that I can pretty much handle whatever it is in my path.
Sometimes I miss that feeling of invincibility I had when I was younger, that romantic notion that age could never catch up with me, the feeling that the road in front of me was going to stretch on into forever. Then I look behind me and see the road full of the obstacles, the yield and stop signs, the people and places I’ve passed by and through on my way to making it to where I am now, and I’m glad and I’m grateful.