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  • Nick McDonald

I Didn't Ask for Middle Age.


I never expected to be a middle-aged man. Since I’ve been born, I’ve been on the world’s slowest stopwatch, ticking one year at a time for thirty-three years almost now. I’m looking ahead, and I can feel the hourglass tilting, the stopwatch pausing, the New Year’s ball reaching its zenith and slouching gently back toward its beginning. The math is all so straightforward at first: one year equals one, two equals two. But ahead, everything becomes inversely proportional: Forty-one years old is a thirty-nine year countdown, forty-two is thirty-eight, etc.

Seeing aging grandparents hasn’t helped. They become agitated, ragged, child-like even, living quiet but different lives in the Independent Villages of the world (the name itself a drab wink at its opposite: dependence, fading, slowing).

The other day I met with a bright young student who shared dreams about her future, and I tried quietly to reign in my thoughts: “I thought I would do all that, too. You won’t. You can’t. But I can’t tell you that. Brace yourself.” I honed in my gaze, tried to be present, to smile, to nod.

Then something bubbled up and cleared away the bitterness, and for one brilliant leap in time I felt happy for her: happy that she could dream, could experience the joy, the hope, the metabolic freakishness of being young.

I felt happy for myself, too. Happy that I didn’t bear the weight of my old dreams or burden myself with lofty expectations or feel like a resident alien in my own skin.

George Washington’s dream was always to return home to Mount Vernon, to be with the wife of his youth, to garden, to grow old and red, fat, happy. He did, finally, after decades of war-torn years and an auspicious presidency. He spent two years in Mount Vernon, not nearly enough time for a war-hero and saint.

But his final words, in the end: “’Tis well.”

Tis’ well, my friend. Tis’ well, wherever you may be.


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