How Old Are You, Really?

How Old Are You, Really? March 22, 2023

I’m seeing a lot of people posting about how old they are on social media. Or how old they feel physically, or how old they think of themselves as being. Or how old they feel in their soul.

Age is a funny thing. On one hand, how old you are is an objective, quantifiable fact. Growth and aging is a biological process. Society limits the young and the old according to age, for reasons that are valid in general but can be unnecessarily restrictive on an individual basis.

And then there’s the whole question of age and sexual attractiveness, especially for women. I’m going to leave that question alone, except to say that people of any gender can be attractive at any adult age. If you think otherwise, you’re welcome to keep your opinions to yourself.

What I want to discuss in this post is how old we feel, and why, and what that means.

photo by John Beckett

How old do you feel in your body?

When we’re very young, Nature lets us know we’re getting older. We get a little taller all the time. We lose our first set of teeth and new ones come in. And then comes puberty. But after that, changes are slower and more subtle.

The first time someone told me I was old was when I turned 30. I laughed, because I didn’t feel old. Nor should I have – my best days were still ahead of me. I made a conscious effort to get in better shape when I turned 35 – and when I escaped my job from hell and had time to exercise. My physical peak was right after I turned 38.

When I turned 40, I wondered what the big deal was. But by 41, I knew. I needed glasses to read and I developed a serious case of acid reflux. By 50, my endurance was down and injuries were taking longer to heal. In my 60s my recovery time from strenuous-but-ordinary exercise is measured in days, not hours.

And yet, I can still do pretty much anything I want. I don’t feel 61. I feel like I should be somewhere in my late 40s. Mind you, that’s late 40s for an ordinary person, not for Tom Brady. But one of the things I’m looking forward to in retirement (whenever that is) is the time to do more hiking. I was never much for technical climbing, but I’d like to try going up mountains again – at least the ones that don’t require ropes and an ice axe.

I know this can change at any moment. Illness, serious injury, or just accelerated aging are real possibilities. But while I know I’m old, I don’t feel that old.

photo by John Beckett
Flat Top Mountain, Colorado – 2004. I climbed (hiked) it when I was 42… and got altitude sickness. I’d like to do it again with better preparation.

How old do you feel in your mind?

I know I’m 61. I’m looking forward to hitting an age when I can retire (65, 67, 70… depending on how the finances cooperate). But when I look at the way I react to current events, to new trends, and to the inspiration that comes from good books and movies, I feel like I’m still 28 with almost all my adult life in front of me.

But also, I know myself far, far better now. Which means that when I see something that makes me think “that would make a great career” or some other long-term investment of time, I know that I don’t really want to do it. I’ve been down that path (or at least investigated it) and while it might have been good, it wasn’t what was best for me.

I do wish I had started this Pagan path earlier in my life, but I’m content knowing that given where I started, I got here as quickly as I could. And moving further along this path isn’t restricted by age – I’ll be doing this until I move on into the next world.

How old do you feel in your soul?

Yes, I have past life memories. One of the reasons I chose the path of Druidry is that I have memories of being a Druid in ancient times. Is that truly a memory? Or is it a daydream? Or is it an ancestor (of blood or of spirit) who was an ancient Druid speaking to me from the Otherworld? I believe these are my own memories, but I hold that belief very loosely.

But the older I’ve gotten in this life, the more the thoughts I’ve had about history all my life feel like memories and not stories. Did I experience it all in this world? Did I observe it from the Otherworld? I don’t know.

What I know is that my soul feels old. Not old as in “tired” but old as in “experienced.” I’ve seen all this before. What we’re experiencing now is unique enough that I have no clear vision as to how it’s all going to play out, but it’s similar enough that I’m concerned.

The good news is that this experience (if it really is experience) also tells me that humans are remarkably resilient creatures, and we will make it through “all this” one way or another, collectively if not individually.

And it also tells me I’m not done yet. I have more I need to learn and do before I take up long-term residence in the Otherworld.

How old do you feel emotionally?

I’m a little uneasy asking this question – of myself, much less of anyone else. I’m a strong believer that you feel what you feel and judging your feelings is unhelpful. Too much of what we call “emotional maturity” is simply repressing legitimate feelings so we don’t make those around us uncomfortable.

And yet…

There are times when I feel like the oldest and wisest sage in the world. I know exactly why things happen, I put them into a reasonable and helpful context, and I rationally figure out how best to respond.

And there are other times I feel like a three year old who missed his nap and I struggle to keep from melting down over things that are ultimately not very important. I’m aware of this and so most times I don’t melt down (most times, not every time) but the inconsistency and incongruity of my apparent emotional age is curious, to say the least.

photo by John Beckett

Age is more than a number

The phrase “age is just a number” is often thrown out in an attempt to comfort (or to challenge) those of us who feel limited because of advancing age. But it’s not exactly true.

When we’re very young, our age determines what we can do, where we can go, and how we’re treated. Some of this is necessary – much of it is not. I’ll take the difficulties of adulthood over the powerlessness and disrespect of childhood any day of the week.

As we get older, our age is a measure of our experience. It’s a constant reminder that while our days may be many, they are not unlimited – and they are always fewer than they were yesterday. The older I get the less I care about some things, but the more urgency I feel about others.

How old are you, really?

How old are you in your body? How can you best adapt to your physical realities, whatever they may be?

How old are you in your mind? Have you learned how to remain open to new ideas and new experiences without chasing every fad and fashion that comes along?

How old are you in your soul? Are you learning what you need to learn? Are you making good use of what you’ve already learned, for yourself and for the world at large?

I’m 61. And I’m 28, and I’m 48, and I’m 3, and I’m 2217.

And I’m good with that.

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