We who are younger often imagine life diminishing as we get older. Sacks is celebrating being 80 and the perspective on life it gives him.
Eighty! I can hardly believe it. I often feel that life is about to begin, only to realize it is almost over. My mother was the 16th of 18 children; I was the youngest of her four sons, and almost the youngest of the vast cousinhood on her side of the family. I was always the youngest boy in my class at high school. I have retained this feeling of being the youngest, even though now I am almost the oldest person I know.
I relate to this, still thinking of myself as this kid who’s just getting started even though I just turned 49. In my mind I’m still the kid brother, the boy wonder, the wide-eyed, brown-haired guy on the verge of my life’s adventure. Of course, my young daughters, when they draw family portraits, reach only for the grey crayon to fill in my hair. And the college students I work with think of me as a father figure instead of the cool older brother figure I imagine myself to be.
Maybe it’s having a wife ten years younger and coming to parenthood late that’s prolonging my illusion of youthfulness. But I do think age is such a state of mind. I’m proud to have reached 49. It’s better than the alternative, to not have made it this far. (As Sacks proclaims, “I’m glad I’m not dead!”)
And each decade of my life completed seems better than the one before. My thirties topped my twenties, and my forties have been richer and more meaningful than any decade in my life so far. I’m looking forward to turning 50 next year.
Here’s Sacks’s similar sentiment:
My father, who lived to 94, often said that the 80s had been one of the most enjoyable decades of his life. He felt, as I begin to feel, not a shrinking but an enlargement of mental life and perspective.
I do feel I’m only now beginning to embrace how little I truly know. And I’m excited at what I hope the decades ahead of me will unfold in knowledge and experiences. Sacks in his essay yearns for even a little more time “to continue to love and work, the two most important things, Freud insisted, in life”.
I agree. I will gladly embrace the good fortune of aging if I continue to fill my days with love and kindness and people I care deeply about and with meaningful, engaging work that seems more like play.
The happiest people I know are often the oldest people I know. The sweetness of life seems to expand for many as its end nears.
I’m looking forward to this final year of my forties. But bring on 50.