At the gym the other day, I overheard a woman complaining that it was her birthday again, and that it seemed as if she had just turned 40 six months ago. I assume this meant she was turning 50, which was confirmed when her male friend offered this consolation:
“They say 40 is the old age of youth, but 50 is the youth of old age.”
The quote is attributed to the famous French writer Victor Hugo, but I don’t think the guy at the gym had any idea of its source. He just liked the way it sounded, and thought it would comfort his friend as she turned 50.
The logic of the Hugo quote seems completely accurate, and it even seems to apply to the rest of your life. Let’s ignore the years from 0 to 20 as “childhood.” (You might break it down to “infancy” from 0 – 3, “childhood” from 3 – 11, and “young adulthood” from 12 – 20, but all that’s so far in the past, does it really matter?)
Most of us would agree that in your 20s, you’re enjoying “youth.” Anything is possible. You have limitless energy, and your career and life could go in any direction you choose. The decade flies by and you make whatever choices you make – maybe commit to a partner and/or job, and settle down a bit. But you’re barely a full-fledged adult – after all, you can still vividly recall your teens.
Then come your 30s – the middle age of youth, when you still feel like you’re 20-something, but you’ve acquired added responsibilities, and a propensity for gaining weight, that belie that. Then you turn 40, still feeling like you’re in your mid-30s, but aches and pains creep in here and there, and that propensity for gaining weight you’d noted in your 30s has turned into a 15-pound bulge that stubbornly clings to your waistline, butt, and/or thighs that won’t budge without a serious commitment to eating less, and exercising more. A lot less. And a lot more. You’re still considered young, but you’re pushing the boundary – you’re in the old age of youth.
Then come the 50s. Whatever was going wrong in your 40s, if you didn’t fix it somehow before turning 50, becomes institutionalized. If you were fat, you get a little fatter. If you had aches and pains occasionally, they become chronic. White hair gets whiter, sparse hair sparser, ear and nose hair coarser. You can still do pretty much everything you used to do, only more slowly and less often. It’s the youth of old age because you’re not really old, and hey, for your age, you look pretty good!
But as I approach 60 this September, the quote is ominous because if my 50s were the youth of my old age, my 60s will be the middle age of old age. And then at 70, I’ll be just plain old. And suppose I live into my 80s or beyond? What’s that – advanced old age?
So the end of the youth of my old age feels significant because it’s the last time I’ll be able to describe myself as any form of “youth.”
But what’s the big deal? Part of the beauty of getting older is that, out of necessity, you learn how to roll with the punches. I’ll take it in stride, just as I have every other milestone year until now.
Like Francis Bacon, “I will never be an old man. To me, old age is always fifteen years older than I am.”
And as Mark Twain said, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
As long as I’m reasonably cogent and ambulatory, I really don’t mind at all.