More specifically, it got me thinking about age.
I was unembarrassed by the presence of two extra young men during what was a rather intimate procedure. We’re taught from a very young age not to expose certain parts of our body in public and in particular, to the opposite sex, unless we’re legal adults in private circumstances – and preferably married, as well. That early training snapped right into place, so that my instant first reaction was one of silent mortification. And as I said, it passed.
Now, these young men were doctors, and it was obvious that two of them were learning to perform the procedure. While I hadn’t been aware before they arrived that this was teaching hospital, the nurse informed me of the fact afterwards. And during the procedure, I figured it out for myself.
Nevertheless, the doctor who did the actual needle-sticking and tissue removal did the job gently, competently and with both care and compassion. I wasn’t concerned then, and I’m not now.
They’re doctors. They see far more intimate parts of both genders, daily, than just my one, 51-year-old mammary. It’s just part of the job. And yet I couldn’t help but be struck by their youth.
As they spoke to me and to each other, I was reminded of my 33-year-old cousin Jack, who was born a couple of years before I joined the Air Force. This young man, raised in California, talks like others of his generation – fast and cool, with that modified Valley accent that makes him sound hip and sort of jaded. He’s a handsome, stylish young fellow too, and he’s aware of his looks. He works hard to stay fit and strong. He’s a bit hyperactive, he’s super-smart and he’s kind down to his toes. And last summer, he became the proud daddy of a beautiful baby boy who looks just like he did when he was little.
Watch out, Jack. Heheh. Your time is coming.
When Jack was four he was a big Star Wars fan. Most kids were. He thought that because I was in the Air Force, I must have been on a first-name-basis with Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. Man, was he wowed. I didn’t set him straight – it was too much fun. And on a visit home during my first year, I brought my military-issue flashlight with me. It had a long yellow cone attached to the light end to make us airmen-in-training visible in our dark-green fatigues when we were marching around at oh-dark-thirty or after sundown. I gave the flashlight to my little cousin and told him, in earnest tones, that it was a light-saber. He was overawed. It tickled me to see his big grin and wide eyes, and it made me feel good to be so completely, unabashedly admired.
The memory of that moment is crystal-clear for me, but of course, Jack no longer thinks I can fly a starfighter. But it doesn’t seem like it happened nearly 30 years ago. My own 30s seem like they were, oh, last month. But 21 years have passed since I turned 30, and my daughter just turned 27 herself. It's hard for me to believe that it's been 16 years since I worked in Germany for the U.S. Army as a civilian. Heh. I was in my 30s.
And now, physically, I’m squarely middle-aged. My body has changed – I’m much heavier, I’m not as strong as I once was, I have laugh-crinkles around my eyes and a hint of that dreaded crepey skin on my neck. I run across the occasional gray hair. Gravity has, sadly, taken its toll on my figure. Some of that, like the extra weight and general unfitness, I’m working on and I’m changing, though the process is frustratingly slow. I celebrate each shed pound and extra half-mile covered on my walk, but I know that achieving a more healthy weight and body fitness, while good things in themselvs, won't make me young again. Some of the changes in my body are the inevitable result of age. Some of them are even beautiful, in their way.
Oddly, I can accept gray hair and wrinkles more easily than accepting that the gaggle of doctors I've gone to for health care are no older than Jack.
So I’ve been thinking about all of this. And I’ve decided that the reason I was so struck by our relative ages yesterday is that my mind is still 30. Maybe a lot younger.
Turning 50 shook me a little because of the number. Fifty years! Five decades! A half-century! It was a red-letter year simply because, well, I’d survived that long. I didn’t think of it in terms of physical age.
And until recently, I still didn’t. I’ve prided myself on not being shocked by the younger generation with their tattoos and body piercings. Their styles aren’t mine, but I understand why the girls wear hip-huggers (the word dates me right there) and the boys wear baggy pants that make them look like they’re giant toddlers with heavily loaded diapers.
Wait. I don’t understand that one. It just cracks me up.
Instead, I get a sort of gleeful satisfaction out of the fact that, like the 70s fashions I once wore and loved (and which I see now as some of the ugliest, dumbest-looking clothes ever), someday, today’s young people are going to gaze at pictures of themselves and say in disbelief, “OMG did I really wear THAT?”
I’ve heard all my life that old age is all in the mind. Who hasn’t heard some older relative say, sagely, "I might look 70, but I'm young in my head." Or, wistfully like my Mom said today, “I wish I was still only 51.” I’m getting older, and the evidence is becoming increasingly hard to argue with, but my mind is still as young as it ever was. How about that.
OK, I’m just rambling on now, so I'll stop. Because isn’t it just old farts who ramble on? And on?
P.S.: The next President of the United States will probably be younger than me. OMG.