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The Secret Life of a Nerd Girl: 90 is the new 60?


a blogumn by Gudrun Cram-Drach

ng15My strongest memory of nursery school is of watching a movie. In the film, a little boy is friends with an old man he sees in the park. The old man feeds the pigeons. One day the little boy goes to the park and the old man isn’t there. His mother tells him the man died, and he would never come back. Cut to slow-motion pigeons strutting around in the setting sun, no one to feed them, fade out, credits. Death.

Later, in hysterics, I asked my parents to please never die, never leave me alone, even if, as they said, I’d be all grown up with a family of my own before that ever possibly happened.

They promised they would try.

At the time, life expectancy in the U.S. was 72. In 7th grade my best friend’s father died at age 72. It sucked, but it made perfect sense. My grandparents were in their late 60s and my parents were in their late 30s. Therefore, I expected to lose my grandparents in college, and my parents in my early 40s.

Boy did I get that wrong.

In my mid-thirties, my parents are not going anywhere, and both of my grandfathers are thriving. The life expectancy in America is now around 78, and 65 (the age at which I thought people became too ‘tired’ to work anymore) doesn’t seem old at all. The barrier that I thought existed between youth and adulthood has broken down.

When my mother was my age, I was 7. She wore skirts, and heels, got her hair permed, and directed an organization. I never imagined she could have felt as young as I do now, but I bet she did. I bet she still does. I’m starting to understand that there is no great internal change as a person matures, it’s more of a layering of experience and knowledge. We are always the same two eyes looking out, just over time, we become more skilled at navigating life.

My dad’s a shrink, so I grew up fearing I would lose my mind. I was relieved when I turned 25 because I’d survived the window of time in which schizophrenia generally strikes. I was out of the woods. But then I learned about other (not just mental) illnesses that could hit when I was thirty, forty, fifty, and so on. I once believed the hardest thing about life was getting to adulthood, then it was clear sailing until I died in my sleep. But there is no such a thing as “out of the woods,” or “clear sailing.” The forest thickens and the wind picks up: the only thing we can do is pay attention, live healthy, and enjoy ourselves.

I cling to the vibrancy and health of my 60-something parents, and hope their strong constitutions have been passed along to me. At the same time I fear I am letting go of what I consider the first ‘third’ of my life (I plan to live till age 105). It’s a matter of accepting the passage of time on both mental and physical levels, and being happy with the choices I have made. I have to convince myself that I won’t “be” old if I act “grown up,” and I have many good years left, both in mind and body.

And above all of that, there’s nothing wrong with “being old,” if I ever chose to accept the label. I get frustrated with myself for thinking like this, aging is perhaps the least unique problem in the world. Worrying about it will only degrade my experience. I wish I could just let it go.

Even though I have the suspicion that I’m already acting like an adult, I still run from the idea of it. By moving to France I’m doing something a young person would do. A person “bogged down” (I use the term loosely) by family responsibilities or a stable job might not be able to take such liberties. Of course I fully hope and look forward to being bogged down by the exact same things once I get settled, they will just be in French.

My family, just like any other, has been through its trials; cancer, accidents, death, broken hips, unruly kids, but it’s all normal. My parents aren’t old, I’ll be lucky to be like them someday. My grandfathers don’t seem old either… well, a little old, but they are content and full of life. Why should I worry about moving through time? As long as I’m happy and healthy, the rest will fall into place.