It just seemed like I turned 40, now 50 is here. What happened to the time? It's like those mornings when you wake to the first nip of Fall in the air. I love Fall, the air ripe and sharp with the smell of burnished sun on dying leaves, while the faint wisp of chimney smoke from that first fire is melancholy. I listen longingly for the sound of a train from beyond the cornfields, and look up for the comfort of a vapor trail in the cold sky, letting me know I'm not alone. Autumn is almost upon us, and with it the end of another year.
As I open the door to let Barkley out, the warm air rushes out, set loose in a sudden gush and I think about how quickly time gets away from us. Shadows stir, the season shifts and before you know it, another year is behind you. The summer is past, with days on the run, and still evenings aloft, and all too soon you're herded inside walls, the routine of chilled mornings and dark nights, cold absolution for the time you spent out in the sun in months past. The days themselves were unchanged, but what you were able to do in them was, with mornings and nights passing in the immaculate intervals of quick daylight and long nights in front of the fire wishing for the cold to pass and Spring to arrive. Yet, when Spring does start, you think again of how quickly another season flew away, and of the last months you ask yourself - did you really accomplish anything to warrant the passing of precious time?
I remember one cold night in front of the fire pondering over Joseph Conrad's story "Youth", an old man's story of his perilous experiences as a young seaman on a storm-wracked coal liner. Having always been a headstrong girl, taking on one dangerous job after another, I empathized with what he said. "I remember my youth and the feeling that I will never come back anymore, the feeling that I could last forever, outlast the sea, the earth, and all men".
How easy as a child, a teen, even into your 20's to think you are invincible. Certainly some of my adventures would indicate that I too subscribed to this vision. But with adulthood, not only comes responsibility, but loss. Suddenly, for myriads of reasons, aging, illness, war; the people around you, as reliable as the sunrise, leave. Someone I knew casually through work was ill, and terminally. All of us had been trying to visit and as I passed through the door after our last time together, she said. . "when will you be back?". I said, brightly, "soon" and the moment it was out I knew that I'd never see her again, and that we both knew it. We simply refused to give voice to it, as to do so, would be to admit our own mortality.
If I had the chance to be 20 again I wouldn't. Time and memory is what has made me who I am. Events in my life, even the ones I'd rather not repeat, all served to awaken within me a stranger who was strong enough to survive it, to grow, becoming someone forged new, honed sharper and stronger. I've moved past the deception of Conrad's youth, to a place where my soul is still, my heart is full and when I leap from a runway with the wind in my hair, I know I will not live forever on this earth and it doesn't bother me, it just makes me treasure what I have.
I got up early this morning and after opening up the curtains to the outside, I went in and looked in the mirror in the morning light - closely. Start with the body. OK, it's not 20 any more, there's those extra pounds that set up base camp somewhere low and safe and never hiked out, my knees can't climb K2, and there's quite a few small scars - that time I fell off a ladder refueling a tanker, the tiny hairline one where I fell off my bike on a hill, the almost invisible one on my knee where I had a mid air with a hurdle in high school track. Yet what is there serves me well, taking me where I want and need to go, seeking and finding my life.
Now I look at my face. Thanks to good Scot/Irish/Norwegian genes and sunscreen there's not much in the way of lines around the corners of my eyes, but those there when I smile simply map the laughter, including the best laughs, the one you share with those you hold dear. The few little wrinkles? Earned them. Every damn one of them. Finally I look at my eyes. Still green, edged with blue. The eyes can be serious. Like others who do what I do, I've seen a lot. Blood, senseless violence, and careless tragedy. I have learned the hard way that there is danger and dangerous souls in the world and I'm not one to shy away from it. My reaction to attack is to defend, not give in. It's not a cognitive thing, but a visceral reaction. Hit unawares, I have ducked, turned, and struck back, ending up tired, and emotionally bruised and wondering how I got there.
But I do it, for to me there is hope in it, there is order.
No it's not youth, but it's a vast intangible strength we call "soul" that's going to persevere for a long time to come. I wouldn't trade that; exchange the sense of who I have become, the self that is secure in its structure, the self that is loved, for any chance to be a firm, pert 20 year old again. So, content, I will start my day as a singing bird erupts into sweet song in my back yard. What I know now; now that I am considered "old" by my daughters generation, is not how to be dead, which I know too well how to do from all I have witnessed, but how to be alive. Living and breathing, growing and loving, as the trees in my garden and the liquid tranquility of a rushing river or a mere small red-winged songbird, who truly believes that in this moment, he's eternal, and for an instant, may very well be.
When I was a teen and looking at my parents I thought 50 was ancient, now I realize that to survive to middle age is to be slowly born.
I wouldn't trade this moment in time for anything.