turning forty-five

m. werneburg, 2017.03.02

They say that forty is the new 30. Maybe. But forty-five is still forty-five.

When I turned forty, I wrote about where my head was at. Now I'm more concerned about my decrepit body. When I turned forty, I talked about possibility. Now I mostly think about responsibility. When I turned forty, I wrote the article soon after the event. I've finally found a moment to write this 364 days later.

On the responsibility front, it's complex. I'm now an executive. And on two non-profit boards. I sit on industry committees and help write regulatory guidance. I get invited to sit on and chair panels, and to attend conferences. We've had a second child, and the older child is navigating the pre-teen years that introduce school-yard violence and complex relationships. I'm managing much greater expenses with relatively an income that doesn't touch what I was earning in the late 90's. I look ahead and can't see how we can possibly get from here to a secure retirement. I spend any potentially disposable income on life insurance and vitamins and middle-aged things.

And yet: I manage. I'm on industry committees because there are things that need doing. I'm on non-profit boards because there's a world that needs changing. I'm an executive because there's a company that needs leading. And I'm a parent for life, and very grateful for it (mostly). Who would I be if I hadn't loaded myself down with responsibilities? The same drifter I was for far too long, with no roots, no community, and nothing to offer? Yes, forty-year-old me, I'm looking at you.

You can't live care-free forever.

Your decrepit body will see to that.

When I was a teen, my right knee would start to twinge when there was snow coming. Now it grinds and flares with pain if I bend to hug my daughter. I have constant pain across my lower back, and my only news there is that its slow recovery has brought me back from a period at 41-42 when I could only walk but slowly and could not run at all. I've got incipient arthritis in my left hand, and my eyes ache all the time. My last two eye tests led to stronger prescriptions, and the latest saw the advent of reading glasses. I'm so grey and wrinkled I look more like my father than I do myself. And I'm building a collection of pants that no longer fit.

And yet: when I bought that life insurance, I was rated in the healthiest bracket of people my age. Yes, plagued with aches and pains (I haven't mentioned the migraine management regime I now live with on a daily basis) but in overall fitness and health I'm somehow two levels above the norm. I ride my bicycle twenty kilometers a day for nine or ten months of the year. In more actively managing the migraines, I'm far, far ahead of where I was at forty.

I have to be; I literally don't have time to be sick.

It comes back to being a parent. It's – how do I put this – a bit of a influence on your schedule. I had time for creative writing, before my son was born. Before my daughter was born, I'd have time for photography at least. That's long gone, now, and even the writing is finished: to even pull off a simple article is now a major commitment, likely using stolen time. And if I get sick, I can't offload anything from my similar-overworked wife.

And to be honest: I can't now remember what the point of life was, before having kids. Was there one? Now there is. I get to introduce two people to life! It's amazing. And as crippling as it is, draining you of ability to do anything else, it seems worth the trade-off.

I'm grateful for this opportunity to wade into middle-age. Of aging, it's always easy to say, "It sure beats the alternative", but we live in dangerous times and I live in an area of calm. And with children in the mix, the stakes are higher. One of my closest friends in high school drowned at 34, already a father but struggling with that and many other aspects of life. Another friend and mentor crashed a plane a few years ago. He was a parent, and I suppose I've now outlived him, too. I'm less than a decade away from the age at which my grandmother died, after years of struggling with various challenges.

Which leaves me thinking about wrapping up. Do I have a neat encapsulation? No. But maybe that's it; there's nothing to the age you're at, it's just a number as we keeping ticking over. Yes, we fall apart, and yes it comes faster than we could imagine. As Trotsky allegedly said, "Old age is the most unexpected of things that can happen to man." Let us age.

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