When I was young, 21 was the official age of adulthood. Yes, you could get married before then and young men had to join the military when they reached the age of 18, but that 21st birthday was when the world accepted and recognized you as a grownup.
And I desperately wanted to be a grownup. As I've mentioned here in the past, I was deeply disappointed when I woke on my 21st birthday in 1989, and did not suddenly know the answers to all life's existential questions.
Equally discouraging that day was that I felt no more like an adult than I had the day before.
Although I'd had my own banking account for four years by then, I was angry with myself for still being secretly proud that I knew how to write a check and balance the account each month. By then, I thought, I should be so practiced that it would be no more a big deal than dialing a telephone number.
And even though I had been working all those same four years, I was unhappy that I was afraid of my boss as I had been terrified of my dad all of my younger life. I know that haven't been the sweetest young lad. Grownups didn't feel that way, at least that was what I believed then.
At about that time, when I was buying several drinks one day because having a party was still fun at that age, the cashier held up the vodka I had selected and said, “Honey, you are way too young for this.”
I could feel myself blush, embarrassed because I so wanted to be a grownup and a real grownup had called me out. I still believed then that grownups were always right and I ached for it to be my turn to be right.
It irritated me that whenever I accomplished something new, something real adults seemed to do as a matter of course, my pride in myself overflowed. Booking an airplane trip the first time. Getting my first credit card (very hard for regular “folks” in those days). Registering to vote and then not having a clue what to vote for on election day.
It shouldn't be that way, I thought. I should be as comfortable with myself now, as an adult, as I was with being a child. I never thought then that I was faking being a kid; I just was.
But even getting married when I was 29 seem too grownup for how I felt yet - that I was still pretending to be grown up. But by the time I left my wife for going to sea again a few years later, believe me, I felt plenty grown up.
And that is my point. However much I wished to be an adult at a certain age, it doesn't happen that way. The transition from teenager to adult takes growing into over a period of time.
And now I'm pretty sure that at the other end of life, time is required again to become comfortable in one's old age.
Even if we accept that we've reached the beginning of old age, by 60 or so, many of us are not able anymore to make the internal transition to it than the days we felt like grownups at 21.
I became 45 last year when I first realized I was decades older than everyone, I worked with and translated that into knowing that yes, I really do get old, in fact I already am doing so. And I wondered what it would feel like just as 25 or 30 years earlier I had wondered what being a grownup felt like.
It's taken people around me that have retired nearly 20 years to settle into old age and I'll do it with as many fits and starts as growing into adulthood.
What I first noticed, in the youth of my old age, was that people treated me differently. It probably wasn't but it seemed sudden that at work, I was no longer automatically included when groups of colleagues, all younger now went out for drinks at the end of the day. They somehow forgot to invite the “old”guy.
I knew it was something age-related as, I could no longer keep up with the youngsters. At about the same time, a friend arranged for me to meet a certain women that I admired during the days that I was also single. I was surprised when I talked to her how old he looked; But she was only three years older than me.
More and more frequently, I was happy to stay home on Friday and Saturday evenings. It hadn't been so long before then that I had thought of myself as a social failure without a party on a weekend.
And as I was so angry at age 21 to feel a secret pride in little accomplishments that I believed adults handled with aplomb, now I was annoyed with myself for feeling superior to a couple of older men in my neighborhood who “behaved” much older than I did even though we were born within two or three years of one another. But they had trouble with handling things on a computer. Nowadays I'll ask my daughter to help me with the unknown worlds behind facebook and smart phones.
Curious about what was happening to me and how my life would be different as I got older, I began researching aging. Back then, before the boomers began turning 60, there was almost no popular media about aging that was positive. Mostly they ignored everything about life after 55 or 60.
The amount of information about old age has improved since then (although not necessarily the negative attitudes) I've settled into being older in a way that is similar to having gradually grown into adulthood so long ago.
It took me a very long time to understand that it's a journey getting to old age just as it was getting from childhood to adulthood.
A piece of Shakespeare's play, The Tempest, can never be analyzed because
”...for every time it is read it speaks with a different voice to each individual reader. Indeed, on that same reader it's impact changes with each new reading – and particularly at different phases of his growth into maturity and old age.I'm working on it, I'm trying.
“This of course is true only for those who continue to grow old and do not merely sink into the aging process or attempt to delay it.”
The Old Sailor,