Is age really only a number?

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Before I turned 21 I spent lots of time hoping I wouldn’t be asked for my ID because I looked older than my age. When I was in my 20’s, and certainly into my 30’s, I often tried to act older than I was.  I tried to come across as a person with more experience and sophistication than my age.  I dressed the part in a conservative suit with a “more mature” hairstyle. In contrast, I dreaded the day when I would no longer be asked to produce my ID to prove my age.  My dear friend, Carlene, who is a few years older than I am, once told me that when you’re in your 30’s and 40’s, and maybe even into your 50’s, if you’re lucky, people hear your age and say,  “Wow you don’t look____.”  Once you reach your 50’s and beyond and you reveal your age people say,  “Wow, that’s nice.”  That’s when you know that things have changed. During my younger years when I walked by a mirror I actually recognized myself and might fix my hair or lipstick. These days when I walk by a mirror I hardly recognize that person and often wonder what my mother is doing here, especially since she’s been dead for many years.   It’s a harsh reminder that my attempts at appearing older have moved in permanently.  There is no turning back.  I remember the days when I could stay out with my friends until the wee hours of the morning, go home to my apartment catch a few hours of sleep, get up, shower, go to work and have a, mostly, productive day.  Those were also the days when, if I looked tired it was a fleeting moment that a splash of water and a little extra makeup could take care of. Now, when I’m up in the wee hours of the morning it’s because I’m headed to the bathroom– no amount of water splashing or makeup can whisk away the years.  I look at the wrinkles forming on my face at a rapid pace and I realize I earned each and every one of those lines and that this is the face I came into the world with and this is the face I’ll go out with.

 Having lived for the last 25 years in a community that has few age boundaries I came on this adventure not thinking much about my age and doing what I would do in any community.  I made friends, started a book club, joined a yoga class and began to fit into my new community.  The women I met seemed to include me regardless of my age or maybe because of my age. Whatever the reason I was part of the group.  The other day a colleague was celebrating his birthday and I asked him which birthday it was.  He said 27th.  I replied, “Good God, my children are older.”  I must have had a look of horror on my face because he said, “Well then, why don’t you think of me as 40.”  “Fair enough,” I replied, “You can think of me as 40 as well.” 

 As time has passed and I have come to love my life here, my age is screaming at me.  For the first time in my life, at least that I am aware of, I am being discriminated against based on my age.  Korea, and the University where I teach, has a mandatory retirement age of 65.  I knew this when I came, but then I wasn’t interested in staying more than a semester, maybe two.  Things have changed, and now I want to decide when I go.  When my colleagues talk about the how long they might stay here before moving to the next adventure, I realize I’m being left behind.  I can certainly have another adventure after this one, but there aren’t many countries hiring 65 year-old women to teach. 

There were so many things that seemed so important when we were younger; one life altering decision after another, or so we thought.  These days I take things as they come and realize that I don’t have all the time in the world, just the time I’m in.  I laugh more, hug more, tell people in my life that I love them.  I don’t miss an opportunity to do something fun and I don’t hesitate to turn down invitations I’m not interested in.  I spend my time the way I want.  Our obligations have diminished and our life seems filled with more joy and adventure.  I keep myself in shape by running, albeit slower than ever, swimming, steady but slow, and we bike everywhere–no Tour de France, but without a car, it’s our primary mode of transportation.  We eat well, although we don’t hesitate to have an extra glass of wine or a great piece of chocolate. On the elevator the other day I turned to Steve and said that I thought our life was so exciting.  He said, he thought it wasn’t so much about being exciting but it was never boring and always thought-provoking.   It’s filled with love, laughter and lots of fun.   I’ll take that. 

“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be.” Robert Browning