Sometimes I feel smarter than I was 30-something years ago. I don't remember how to do Algebra or how to diagram a sentence, but I can read several newspaper articles about seemingly disparate issues and immediately see how they are connected. Like David Foster Wallace on a cruise ship, I can walk into complex social situations and quickly discern intricate hierarchies and relationships. When I was younger, I sometimes intuitively understood these things but I lacked the vocabulary and the confidence to articulate what I observed and felt.
Is this wisdom? Wisdom may include the breadth of one's fund of information, and sure, I know more stuff now than when I was young, but I think the better part of wisdom is depth. But there's a problem, and it's time to name it. The wisdom that comes with age has little value to anyone but those possessing it, because wisdom is another word for old, and old is what no one wants to be.
I can be cranky about millennials and the way they project onto my generation a lack of relevance and an inability to contribute meaningfully to a world and a dialogue that they view as theirs, as if ownership of culture rationally belongs to any particular age group over others. I don't respond in a get-off-my-lawn sort of way, but with a private antipathy toward the self-absorption of youth. We all think culture is shared until it hauls off and smacks us down one day when we try to place our order at Starbucks and someone behind us who is younger and more attractive is served first, because we are teetering on the event horizon of invisibility.
I remember how distant middle age -- and certainly old age -- felt when I was a child and a young woman. That's totally normal. Time feels like it is crawling when you're young, and of course it zooms by like a bullet train when you are older. I don't think youth is wasted on the young, but I do have to remind myself that I am not among them anymore. Mirrors make for fantastic Reminder apps, even better than Siri's.
There are so many great things about being in my 50s. I am the poster child for Happy Menopause, having been fortunate to have an easy go of it, and finally closing the book on over 30 years of medical problems. And hey, hey, hey ... bon voyage mood swings! It's different for every woman, so I'm just saying that menopause has done me right, and I'm loving the hell out of it.
Being an empty nester is pretty great too. It took getting used to, but now that I wear it well, I enjoy the freedom my husband and I have to come and go as we please, and (mostly) only worry about ourselves. (That statement is partly realistic and partly aspirational -- we all worry about our adult children, and that never stops, evvverrrrr.)
Perhaps what's best about getting older is the premium placed on authenticity. If you can't be yourself by now, when can you be? Likewise, relationships that are shallow, catty, toxic and so forth can be jettisoned with very little angst. Who's got time for that? Nobody, that's who. And you've earned emancipation on time served. Somehow when I was younger, I never saw it as an option to just take a pass on socializing with people who made me feel like less, in favor of spending it with people who made me feel like more. I've wised up. Wisdom is awesome.
When I was a girl, my parents said I'd think differently about certain things when I was their age and had their wisdom, and nothing made me madder. It was absolutely exasperating to be told, for example, that I would only be a democrat while young, because ... oh what was their stupid saying? ... "When you're young, you vote with your heart, but when you're older, you vote with your head." Something like that. NOPE. I've always voted with both, and I still vote democrat. But sometimes they were clairvoyant. This quote is very wise, and has turned out to be true: "When children are little, they walk on your feet, but when they are older, they walk on your heart."
This getting older and wiser thing is a crapshoot. Sometimes we ripen into more dynamic, self-actualized human beings than we ever could have imagined when looking at our own parents and grandparents.
And sometimes age arrives without wisdom. We all know people like that, God help them. It's so tragic.
I wish that old were not what no one wants to be, but the irony is that everyone who is lucky will be old one day. And as for wisdom? Don't let old age be wasted on the old. My back is always going out on me, but I'm grateful that my mind and my heart and what they are, together, have never been more dependable.
Lori Day is an educational psychologist, consultant and parenting coach with Lori Day Consulting in Newburyport, MA. She is the author of Her Next Chapter: How Mother-Daughter Book Clubs Can Help Girls Navigate Malicious Media, Risky Relationships, Girl Gossip, and So Much More, and speaks on the topic of raising confident girls in a disempowering marketing and media culture. You can connect with Lori on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.