I turned 41 last week. Several of my co-workers on The Collegian staff half-heartedly wished me a happy birthday.
I say half-heartedly because I think some people were afraid to say happy birthday to me because they were not sure how I felt about turning another year older.
When you are young you count down the days until you are 21, then you go out with your friends to have a drink-or more-to celebrate and toast the future. When you are older you start counting down the days to retirement, then go out with your friends to have a drink-or more-to forget and toast the glorious days gone by of your youth.
I guess that might be true for most, but not for me. I like the age I am at now. I am glad for every grey hair on top of my head, though that does not mean that I am ready to display them for the world to see (yes I dye my hair). I am proud of the years I have lived, and I can say without hesitation that I would not be 21 again for anything in the world.
Does that mean that I have no regrets? Of course I have regrets, but I try to live my life so I will have as few regrets to reflect on as possible. That means taking chances and trying new things even when you have reached an age were it is easier and more comfortable to remain in familiar daily routines.
One of those new things for me was going to college. I was afraid that I could not do the class work as well as my younger counter-parts. I was also afraid that the younger students would shun me because of my age. I had nightmares that I would be giving a presentation in class and I would hear people whispering things like, ‘Hey, my grandmother wears those same kind of shoes,’ or ‘my mom dyes her hair that same color’.
Fortunately this has never happened. Every student I have encountered has been very gracious to me. They have never made me feel old or made me feel like I was an outsider. I am treated just like any other student. They say hi to me when we pass on our way to class. I get included in the merry making when in group settings. And my fellow students even poke me on face book just like they do their younger friends.
I have learned something from the younger students. I have learned-or should I say, I have remembered-how to look at the world through young, eager, got-my-whole-life-ahead-of-me eyes. When you age you do forget what it was like when you were younger. And yes sometimes looking back is bittersweet because you no longer have your whole life ahead of you. You see for the first time how finite your time is and how few of your hopes and dreams that have come true.
Youth has the expectation of fulfilling all of your life plans. Age has the reality that life has not always turned out quite the way you had planned.
I hope that the younger students have learned something from me, too. I hope that when they look at me that they see someone who-despite being older-had the courage to change what she did not like about her life and took action to change it. And I hope that lesson will stay with them when they come to a time in their lives when they are middle-aged and not happy with how their lives are going. And I hope they find the courage to change what they don’t like about their lives.
Will I always be so positive about growing older? I don’t know. Come ask me in 10 years when I turn 51.