I went for a walk with a 20-something friend last weekend, and found myself telling her the story of the time I drove around Ontario with an old friend, one of their recent exes, two dogs with dental issues and an urn of the first friend’s mom’s ashes. “We wanted to take Ruth back to all the places she’d lived,” I explained. “And we wanted to end up in Grand Bend, and scatter some of her ashes in Lake Huron at sunset. Of course, it was October, and pouring, and we couldn’t get the lid off the urn, so we basically just showed her the lake, said a few words and went to eat a steak.”
My 20-something friend laughed out loud. “OMG, you have so many stories.”
“Well, I’m old,” I said, matter of factly.
I turned 56 on Monday, my turn for a pandemic birthday. In Toronto, we’ve been in lockdown… forever. I celebrated by asking a talented friend to make two birthday cakes and divide them into individual containers, which I picked up, masked on her porch. Then I drove around, delivering them. I called it a deconstructed birthday party. On Sunday, Susan and I ordered thai food and ate cake, and then on my actual birthday, I zoomed with a lot of people I love. All day people sent me virtual greetings, from Canada and the UK and America and Uganda, the best part of social media.
Even though I was alone for my actual birthday, I felt surrounded by love. And I felt content. Like those eight blocks of seven years behind me are filled with great stories, some magical, some heartbreaking, some ill-advised but interesting. Relationships that endure. And more than that, it feels good to feel…. seasoned. To know that life is filled with joy and with suffering and with connection and with loss, and to know that even when everything feels full of doom, there will be another page.
I first started writing for this blog around the time I turned 50, and I fretted a lot more about age, then — my first post was about aging. But nearly 200 posts later, I have a very different relationship with aging. This last block of 7 years has been about easing into a changing body and a discombobulating distance from my birth with an unexpected gratitude, humour, sense of the absurd.
In some ways, it feels *bonkers* that I’m 56 — that’s the age of my ancient great-aunts, wearers of shearling hats and flaky face powder! But that is a lot of blocks of 7 years, from first memories that include my father crying at RFK’s death and the moon landing to the anxious trudge of the past year.
One of my colleagues — a geriatric psychiatrist — gets irritated when I say “I’m old!” In fact, her birthday text scolded me that I wasn’t old. My mother doesn’t like it either, because it makes her feel old. But I say it with a real sense of awe. I’m OLD. I have 56 years. I’m not decrepit, I’m not less than, I’m not sad about it — but I have age. And that is simply amazing.
Over the past few years, I’ve started to really notice that having a pretty good memory and having a lot of age means that I’m constantly reminded that people younger than I am — usually when I’m listening to podcasts — can’t fathom or track the profound cultural changes that have happened over my life time, especially around gender roles and technology. Not only do they not really have any notion of how very, very recently we became humans with devices constantly stuck in our hands, but that a 15 year old who had to talk to her friends on a corded kitchen phone in 1980 is actually a very different human than a 15 year old welded to a device. We are different humans than we were when I was born — for better, for worse — but it’s *so* *interesting*.
Last year, just before my birthday, back when there were gyms, I deadlifted 200 lbs. That made me feel pretty strong — but rereading that post, I still see anxiety about aging, a need to claim and reaffirm strength. Over the past year — probably because of the forced adaptation of Covid, maybe just because I’ve finished another learning cycle of my life — I don’t have any of that anxiety. I haven’t had access to a 200lb barbell, and that’s just fine. I have whole new movements, I am strong in different ways. Now, I happily proclaim that I am OLD. I assume I will get OLDER. I get to live an interesting life, and I am pretty damn grateful for every year of it.
Here is my beautiful baby niece, Eloïse, wishing me happy birthday. One of my sadnesses is that I can’t hold her, because of the Covid. But look at her. She’s pure joy.
How about you? What’s your relationship to aging? Is it changing?
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and eats cake in Toronto.