To we who are elderly, let’s neither avoid nor swim in the times of our youth long gone. We are not decrepit versions of then, rather we wear different costumes of wrinkled skin, generous girths, and the unblinking stare of knowing nothing is new. We are comprised of both then and now.
I know some to whom it’s painful that they are no longer young. Not me. I am friends with that young self. I am still amused at the callowness of my youth, so jejeune, a time when all things seemed possible, when the jadedness of older folks made them self-limiting; when love and achievement and something spectacular might occur the very next day, the very next handshake, the very next smile; when nobody could tell me I couldn’t.
Then, middle age happened, and reality impinged on unbounded confidence and hope. So, life, after all, is a bit of a slog, where persistence, experience, and effort had more currency than raw energy and optimism. Yet, that, too, was a wonderful time, one in which self-measures were tested and sanded by competition and fate and pain built muscle; one in which being grounded meant standing in dirt instead of clouds. Building happened—family, children, careers, financial security (if that was to be), and the importance of grasping hands reaching up from the abyss.
After all that, we finally find ourselves at the head of the table. Solid and secure, we have nothing left to prove and much to give. We see those directly behind us who will soon enough take our place. They are good and strong and up to the task, and in many ways, better than we, if not a tad more to learn. Their presence gives us peace. We wear well their regard and respect; they have been privy to our race and seen us to the finish line.
The sixteenth century printer and book seller Henri Estienne said, “If youth but knew, if age but could.” I don’t know the circumstances or context in which he said those words, but it must have been more toward the end of his life than the beginning. How else could he have known?