The Urban Hippie: Blogging about life from the other side of 50 with wit, wisdom and reckless abandon.
Recently I was watching someone getting interviewed somewhere online. I don’t remember who or why, but I do remember one question and their emphatic answer. The question was, “Do you feel like your best years are behind you?” and the person being interviewed immediately answered “Yes, definitely.”
I sat there kind of stunned. How does one proceed with the rest of their life if they think the best years are behind them? Now, I was never a young, beautiful ingénue or actress, or well paid sports figure whose fortunes changed with the onset of wrinkles or age. But even if I were, I would hope that I wouldn’t feel that way. How sad is that?
When I look back over the last 55 years I do think the quantity of my years are behind me, but certainly not the quality of my years. In fact, I am incredibly grateful to be exactly where I am at today – emotionally and spiritually, at least. Physically I have issues that I didn’t have in my younger years, but that’s part of the mileage. However, I haven’t given up on my physical self and am determined to keep working on the things I can change/improve so that I can really enjoy the rest of my journey here on Planet Earth.
I find as I get older all of those annoying sayings that were around in my youth suddenly aren’t so annoying and, in fact, make a lot of sense. The one that used to drive me crazy was: “Youth is wasted on the young.”
“What the heck does THAT mean!?” I used to think. That was the dumbest thing I had ever heard. Now rocking double nickels I get it, I really do. I am no longer the impatient, easily offended raw nerve of a human I was then. When I look back I can’t imagine how I existed carrying all of the pain around inside of me, that huge chip on my shoulder should have made it impossible to hold my head up. And, in fact, it did.
Like most other humans I came out of childhood with a boat load of baggage. I brought that with me into my first marriage and early adult friendships. I was one of the walking wounded, but I didn’t realize it at the time. I was trying to figure out who I was as person, woman, wife and mother. I remember being so horribly insecure about almost everything. Add mental illness and addiction to the mix and I was a wreck. But I didn’t realize it at the time. I thought this was what life was: struggle, suffering, trying to be a better mom than the others around me, pushing my sons to be the smartest, best behaved always dressed appropriately kids on the block.
Our Christmas tree had to be perfect, each decoration just so. I had to present myself a certain way to fit in – at work, with friends, in my marriage. It was exhausting and impossible. I never felt I succeeded, I always felt short of this image of perfection that, to me, equalled happiness or success or both. I don’t know where I got this image from. It wasn’t how I was raised, but I guess that’s the answer. My childhood was so difficult that I guess I was trying desperately to give my children and myself something completely different.
There was also this weird dynamic among my female friends, a strange competition that I never understood and still don’t. We were friends, but also in competition with each other. Desperate housewives struggling for acceptance when we didn’t even know who we were. Instead of celebrating and supporting each other, we were often catty and gossipped about each other. I look back to who I was then and just cringe.
I can’t mark a date on the calendar when this started to change. I guess my divorce had a lot to do with it. I was completely broken, again. Having survived a nervous breakdown in my mid 20s, I thought nothing could ever be worse than that. Then my husband of 18 years fell in love with another woman, 11 years younger and 150 pounds lighter than me. I was devastated, my heart shredded. I just knew I would never heal.
If I didn’t have two young sons who needed me I probably would have hurt myself in some way. But I didn’t. I survived. I can’t remember much from those days, it’s all a blur of tears, heartache, moving, working and trying to survive. My boys suffered wounds that they will probably take to their graves. If I have any regrets as a parent, and I do, most of them come from this time. I made so many mistakes, and I know exactly what I would do differently this time around. But then I am looking back from a great distance, in no pain, with love and forgiveness in my heart. My reality is very different now from what it was then, and I am very different as well.
As another old saying goes, “With age comes wisdom.”
After the divorce I played the bitter ex-wife for a while and behaved unkindly toward my former husband and his new love. But thankfully, so thankfully, I began to actually dislike that version of myself. I was ashamed of the words that came out of my mouth. I was damaging my children and their relationship with their father, who truly loves them dearly. I think that was the first time I was able step back and look at myself objectively and make a conscious decision to change the course of who I was becoming, and steer myself to a different perspective.
I had to forgive, had to. Or I would never heal.
I forgave my husband and his girlfriend and myself. I realized that no one was a bad person; this is simply life. LIFE happens, and it will continue to happen, in ways I wouldn’t like and in ways I would love.
So what can I do about it? I can embrace it and try and squeeze as much happiness out of it as possible. And try and let the hurt go sooner and move into a place of peace and forgiveness sooner. This was such a great thing for me to realize. Yes, there’s been about a million books written on just this subject, but until you’ve had that personal “Aha!” moment, they are just words on a page.
I’d like to say that it’s been smooth sailing since, that all of my relationships have benefited from this new insight and maturity. But that wouldn’t be true. Things actually got much, much worse for awhile. But that’s a tale left for another day.
So, as I look back on the young woman I was, I wish I could hold her and hug her and tell her truly, everything WILL be okay. You have to go through this experience to really learn what is important in life, to lose the unpleasant parts of yourself that don’t serve your happiness.
To magnify the inner spirit that brings you joy.
And you will never stop growing and learning. And there will be pain, but there will also be the sweetest, truest love you could ever imagine. You will heal your relationships and celebrate all of the love that gets poured over you every day.
But first you must get through this, to get to that. Hang on girl, hang on. The life you dreamed of is right in front you. All you have to do is embrace love and create it, and it will be yours. Life doesn’t have to be drama, disappointment, competition, battling weight, self-doubt, not measuring up. NO!!! Life can be love, music, joy, birds in the woods, the purr of your cat, a walk with your dog, dancing in your home with the love of your life. A wonderful life exists; it’s right here, right now. Just squeeze every drop of joy from every minute. Let go of the pain and fear and embrace the knowledge that you can choose to create the life you want, with exactly what and who you have in front of you.
I realize that even if I could go back and tell myself these things, my younger self probably wouldn’t believe me. Her existence, so far, has been just the opposite. She won’t learn from words, only from her experience. And by the time she is happy and content and overflowing with joy, she will be in her 50s. I look back on her and realize she WAS beautiful, physically, emotionally and spiritually, but just didn’t have the self-awareness to know it. All she saw when she looked in the mirror was everything she thought she lacked.
Youth IS wasted on the young!
Instead of enjoying my body at its best, I squandered those years worrying about what everyone thought of me, thinking their opinion of me was my reality.
How sad, how dumb.
So, if someone were to ask me if I felt the best years of my life were behind me, my answer would be that I know that the quantity of my years are behind me, but that my quality years are just beginning.
This is the rest of my life and it will be – it IS, right now – the best of my life.
>More from The Urban Hippie: My friend Jim: Still bringing out the best in me 40 years later