A few days ago, I read this Washington Post article, “Why Half of the Life You Experience Is Over By Age 7“. While the person who shared it on Facebook commented on the importance of homeschooling her young children because their childhood ends so quickly, my thoughts went to the other side of the timeline — the post-middle-age part.
States Ana Swanson, the article’s author, “By the time you’re 35, one year is 2.86 percent of your life.” That percentage compresses the older we get — it describes in numbers our perception that the older we get, the faster time seems to pass by.
I sensed this the year I did turn 35. My son was born, and I felt my own existence turn towards preparing for this next generation. I got life insurance. I completed a will. I even updated the beneficiary information on all of my financial paperwork.
I’m 43 now and even more ensconced in middle-age. Yet I don’t try to recapture a youth gone past as I see laugh lines around my mouth that are now a permanent part of my face, hair going thin here and there as white strands creep in like crabgrass in a Bermuda lawn. Of course, I take care of my health, but I see my impending menopausal and then senior years as closer to me than my childhood and adolescence. Only when I see my son do I see my younger self — but it’s a vision of my son’s future, instead of my self’s past.
I’ve asked myself, “How much complicated baggage do I want to still hassle with when I’m old, and how much complicated baggage do I want to leave for the kiddo to have to deal with when I’m gone?”
My answer: “Not that much — if any.”
It’s weird to think of death as “good”, but there’s a purpose for it. When I saw the YouTube video titled “Alan Watts — Acceptance of Death” (also shared by a friend on Facebook), I thought, “Yes. That’s why I am doing this.”
What is “this”?
“This” is decluttering as much as possible my 1400 square foot home — and the small plot of suburban land around it — so that I know everything that I have and that everything has a function in and outside the home with as little maintenance as possible.
“This” is simplifying my finances, including living well below my means and being wholly debt-free by age 50.
“This” is making do with what I have and being satisfied with making do.
“This” is being satisfied with my workplace of nine years and seeing myself at that workplace for the next 20 years — at least.
“This” is having a social life that is limited to my immediate family, which even my mom thinks is a little sad since I’m a single women and “only” 43. But instead of sad, I feel at peace — for the first time after many years. I hadn’t been attached to someone since I was 17, up to my divorce when I was 39. After 22 years, it’s been good to rediscover who I am when it’s just me.
“This” is leaving a legacy for my son, my family, my students, and my readers.
(Sorry for the macabre turn, but my ex-brother-in-law died of heart disease three weeks ago — he was only 45. My father’s ongoing fight with cancer saps his strength so much these days that he is often home-bound — he’s only 72. My uncle was just recently diagnosed with cancer — he’s only 67. So forgive me for looking at the bottom of that hourglass instead of the top.)
We only have one life: “it’ll be over faster than you thought or hoped to be” ends Swanson’s article. When I project myself to my personal end time — whether that is dying “peacefully” in a bed or being hit by a bus — I have this hope: not to regret that I had lived.
That’s a “this” I can live with.