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Age is not a number, it’s a racket

Age is not a number, it’s a racket

And the best way to enjoy it is to have a ball while you can.

"When I was that age, I didn’t know why I lost to the older dudes. Now I know some of their wily ways".

And the best way to enjoy it is to have a ball while you can

If there is one metric, which helps me measure change, it is age. The daring folly of youth, the sage stillness of experience and a longing for peace are nodes on a timeline, appropriate to their position.

My son understands my forgetfulness as a function of my advancing years. I tell him I’m still young, but he doesn’t believe me.  

It has always seemed remarkable, this thing called “my age”. It’s been a number that has accompanied me since I could barely count, changing along with me, keeping in step.

Our existence is intertwined, until one day it will stop counting beside me, and come to define the ultimate length of my life.  

In our close companionship, my age has told me many things. I remember being four years old, and shouting that magic number into the sky, so happy and proud I was of being four. It was my first big even number.

As time has gone by, the years have sped up. Back then, I counted in halves and quarters. Now, it’s in decades or parts of them. Like saying oh, he’s in his 50s, maybe late 40s. The years fuzz around each other. Only my age knows the truth.   

What I felt, growing up, was that my age was an evolving benchmark, measured against what I should be experiencing. First set of big teeth? Things would happen at 10, at 18, at 35, that made sense because they happened at a particular time.

I could wear black jeans at 28, I believed. My precise age was always a cipher that said something about me. When was a good time to have your first kiss? Or know your first heartache? Have you always acted your age? I hope not. I know someone who celebrated his seventh birthday every year. 

I distinctly remember what it felt like to be 15, the age my daughter is now. Listening to the music she chose for our car journey today, took me right back to that teenaged self, back when I experienced the first blush of youthful love.

I felt invincible, at a time when my body was almost unblemished. I could count the cigarettes I’d smoked on my two hands. At that age, I was unconscious about this carriage that carries me through life.

This hunk of muscle, membrane, blood, and guts that somehow lurches form one day to the next. As they say, youth is wasted on the young. 

Now, my adult body tells a different story. Mostly, it says ouch. I will be 53 this year. Really? Already? What happened? Time is speeding up. Each year is a smaller fraction of my life. 

As I ponder what this age might mean, it’s clear that some things are off limits. For starters, I have crossed the dating median line. When I was younger, the bulk of womankind were older than me, and there were consequently vastly more dating options.

Now, I am faced with a diminishing portion of the population. Besides, most of them are hitched, or have sworn off men for good reason, and that instinct to find a mate has either quelled or been satisfied.

Although I am happily single and do not regard myself dating material, a companionate relationship in these latter years should not be off the cards.

I am aware of my stiffening limbs, my injuries, torn muscles, and twisted cartilage. My body tells a story my age will verify. 

I have donated my body to science. Maybe they will find some use for it. Some plucky bunch of anatomy students might read between the tissues.

I’m tempted to leave them a note, secreted away in a little titanium capsule somewhere along my bones. Maybe with a playlist to conduct their dissections with. A few tales of my scrapes. 

It’s clear that I have crossed the threshold of feeling in control of my body. My body is very much in control of me. I joined a tennis club not long ago, and spent a few months staring down some curvy opponents in mid-afternoon jousts.

My experience is just as valuable as the fitness and power of many younger opponents, intent on obliterating any ball that strays onto their side of the court. When I was that age, I didn’t know why I lost to the older dudes.

Now I know some of their wily ways, how to conserve energy, mix it up, read the game, slow it down, open up and unleash the occasional crosscourt backhand zinger.

I’m learning the names of new body parts. The subscapularis and the fascia, for example. The latter, especially, has hobbled me at a time when I was anticipating a summer of courtly fellowship. Alas.

Take up yoga, or Pilates, my age tells me. At least, tai chi. But sometimes I don’t listen to my age. Sometimes we’re not on speaking terms. Those tend to be the times I learn the hard way. 

Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now and A New Earth, says that the secret of life it to die before you die. To strip away all encumbrances, as in death. Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor of 2 000 years ago, provides a clue to this riddle.

He said: “Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now take what’s left and live it properly.” 

At my age, I couldn’t agree more.     

Sean O'Connor

Change expert, Sean O'Connor, believes that the big change equals big opportunity.

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