The older I get, the more medicines I am prescribed. These are mine. They make me feel old.
Well, not just them. Them and a heart that seems determined sometimes to beat to its own drummer. Them and a left knee that has decided on my behalf that I should stop running for exercise. Them and a right knee that’s started to get stiff when I get out of bed in the morning. Them and hearing that screens out sounds that I used to hear. Them and eyebrows and ear hairs determined to make a break for it. Them and, well, you get the point.
They. Make. Me. Feel. Old.
The thing about aging is that it’s a bitch. The other thing about aging is that it beats the hell out of the alternative.
Something very interesting is happening in the world and I don’t think we’ll really understand it for at least another 50 years. Something that I don’t understand but that is what prompted me to resign from corporate life. Something that also prompted me to focus more attention on men. It’s what brings me at the end of the day to wondering, “What’s next?”
A couple of years ago I mused about turning 60, noting that I was surprised by my reaction to what really is just another birthday. I found myself asking questions, musing more deeply on my mortality, wondering whether I’d feel my life worthwhile when the end eventually came. I realized that I could no longer lie to myself that I was middle-aged; I was in fact closer to being dead than to being born, even if I lived to a ripe old age.
But then again I found myself thinking “Yeah, but I’m not dead yet.” I thought of Mary Oliver’s When Death Comes and realized that I too, wanted to have done more than visited this world, wanted to have “made of my life something particular, and real.” The urgency I felt was a certainty that I would die, and yet a determination that I am not done.
And that is interesting.
What’s also interesting is that I’m not alone. Were it ten or fifteen years ago when I turned 60 in the corporate world, quite likely I would have been thinking I’d retire in a few years, spend a few years puttering around the house and fishing and playing with grandchildren, and then die. That was the plan for most of us even just a decade ago, and most of us lived up to it. A long career working hard, a few years of rest and play followed or accompanied by declining health, and then the end.
That’s changed. Today, just playing the odds of genetics and medical advances, barring an accident or a sudden illness I’m much more likely to die in my 90s than in my 70s. The equation has changed. Instead of facing retirement and a slow unwinding, we find ourselves facing a second “life crisis,” the crux of which is the question, “What do I have left to do, and is it more of what I’ve been doing?” There is a near-panic that accompanies this query, a fear akin to standing at a high place and wondering about jumping off. Afraid to back away – I can’t unsee the cliff – but afraid to step forward. Too entrenched to change and find something new, too tired to reinvent myself yet again, but too bored and too suffocated to keep on breathing the same air.
Sound familiar to you or someone you love?
When I talk to men around my age about this experience, this restlessness that comes from having accomplished a lot in a career and yet feeling it’s not enough and desperate to do something more, what I see most often is recognition, and then animation. It’s as if I’ve spoken a secret password allowing entry into the tree fort. It happens most with other men around 60, and with those around 40 who are afraid that they’re going to turn into the guys who are 60.
Women, having come a ways in the workplace and in society – not all the way, not far enough, but at least a ways – have many of the same experiences and many also relate to this scenario. They too have transitions and need help finding things that are meaningful. I write for them too, and am more than glad to work with women for whom my messages resonate.
But in truth, there are a lot of people who write for women. A lot of them, being women, understand their issues better than I do. By contrast, there are not a lot of resources for men, at least not a lot of resources that aren’t either Iron-John-go-beat-drums-naked-in-the-woods-and-get-in-touch-with-your-feelings, which are simply inaccessible for most men, or macho-reclaim-your-manhood-and-put-women-in-their-place bullshit. I want to be one of those who speak to men in that in-between place where we can learn to be men rather than either emasculated doormats, and also men rather than sexist, rape-culture supporting assholes.
People keep asking me why I would want to write to, and about men. This is why.
Because there is an in-between, and that’s where I work. Want to join me? Know someone who might? Let’s walk together a bit.
Dr. Les Kertay, Awakened Moments