And then one day you find
Ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run
You missed the starting gun
It’s a part of life that we will get older. We are doing it right now, each moment that goes by we get older. But from moment to moment there isn’t much change happening. But over longer periods of time, measured in years, there come certain critical junctures where things happen that signal we have reached a new stage of life from which we can no longer revert back to how we were.
All readers of this blog have probably hit the big P already many years ago which was one of the first major stages to pass. Then there are things like getting a free Mach 3 shaver courtesy of the Gillette company on your eighteenth birthday, walking into bars looking exactly like the person on the driver’s license and seeing the first white hairs appear on your head which then can quickly be lost by simply moving your focus one inch in any direction and seeing gratifying forests of your normal hair.
In the last couple of months I have had a couple eye openers. Standing at the platform at a train station, a couple of college-age backpacker girls approached and asked “Excuse me sir, is this the train to…?” I don’t even remember where they were going or where this event even took place. I was too traumatized by the Sir. Sir? Anything but Sir would be better. Dude. Hey. Yo. Or just Excuse me would have been fine.
The next one (again the trauma has wiped away the location of where this happened but I remember it was on a crowded bus) happened while I was standing next to a mom and her young son both of whom were sitting. I hear the mom tell her son, “Daniel, come sit in mommy’s lap so this gentleman can have your seat.” Gentleman? That’s a term you use to address Sean Connery or a well-dressed man in a suit with tufts of white hair on his head. And did it really look like I needed to sit? Seats are offered to elderly and disabled, not to people in their early thirties. Daniel did as he was told. I did not. I continued to stand, in defiance of this woman’s proclamation of my age.
But the best (worst?) of them all happened in Bali. I’m walking down Kuta Beach looking to rent a surfboard for the day, which means politely declining the dozens of touts trying to sell you anything from massages to temporary tattoos to necklaces to ice cream. I stop and look at a surfboard and this woman approaches me.
“You like massage?”
“No thanks.” I smile at her then continue looking at the surfboard.
She continues elaborating her list of services she offers.
“You like manicure?”
“No thanks. I’m good.”
“You like pedicure?”
Before I answer I look at her to see if she’s smiling. She’s not. She seriously is offering me a pedicure.
“No thanks.” Then I notice her scanning my hair. She offers me a service I had never been offered up to that point in my life.
“You like I take out white hairs?”
NO!! I continued watching her closely, waiting to see her smile or laugh, anything to show me that this was a joke. But nothing came. It was a real proposition, as real as the white hairs I have on my head. I instinctively said no but began wondering how much longer it was before I began buying Grecian products.
The wonderful stepping stones to become older. I’m sure there are many more heading my way and I have a feeling their frequency will accelerate. They’re all eye openers when they happen, like a spotlight is being shined on reality and then there’s no denying it.
But there is a silver lining in all this. If I’ve learned anything in this last year of traveling, it’s that getting old and being old are two very different things. Getting old is inevitable; it is part of life and our bodies have been doing this for millions of years and there’s not much we can do about it. Being old is a choice, a frame of mind and that is something we have a lot of control over. It is determined by how we view life and view ourselves.
On the Camino de Santiago last year, I met Dave and Ernie from Manchester, England, who despite being twice my age (sorry guys, I had to mention that) were younger than most people I know. They were always laughing and poking fun at each other and at other people. Not a day would go by that we weren’t cracking jokes about the other trekkers, naming distinguished trekkers after their look-alike famous counterparts including Johnny Cash, Mick Jagger and Justin Timberlake. And they are in great shape from hiking in the U.K. every weekend and were always the first ones to reach town at the end of the day. I’d typically be one of the last people to stroll into town and I’d see them drinking a beer on a bench outside the bar, with an extra beer on hand with my name on it. How many people in their sixties would be doing that?
If only they had also found someone willing to take out our white hairs while we sipped those beers then there couldn’t be a better end to a day of arduous trekking. Although that would have also meant waiting around for a couple of extra days as all the hair stylists from all the nearby villages worked around the clock on Dave’s hair.