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Life Notes: A Question for the Ages
When was the best time of all?
By Sally Friedman

We were recently at a small dinner party when somebody noticed that we represented people born in at least five decades – from people in their 30s to people in their 70s. Quite a range.

“So if you could choose to be any age, what would it be?” someone ventured.

A thirtysomething was the first to respond. And no surprise – he wanted to be right back in his 20s, which he saw as carefree and fun-filled. He described it as the sunny wake-up call to adulthood.

Some of us several decades ahead smiled, but said little. Few of us would make that return trip. Twenty was unsure; 20 was unfocused, scared, struggling still with identity issues. Being 20 was on the brink – but not there yet.

A beautiful woman among us, the second wife of an older man of 60, was 44. And 44, she told us, was the perfect age – not young, not old. Some agreed with her.

Then the woman who was in her 60s spoke up. “But you still worry about what people think of you,” she said. And the 44-year-old beauty paused and conceded the point.

Yes, seems that at 44, other people’s opinions still matter. A lot. “I’m still a pleaser,” said the beauty, looking directly at her husband, who did seem to treat her as a pleasant ornament whose main purpose in life was to make him feel special. Great for him, not so great for her.

And so it went through the decades.

The guy in his 50s was tired. Tired of the rat race. Tired of the routine, the tedium, even his commute to a job that had lost its spark. To him, 35 looked mighty good. But would he return to it? Not on your life. Too much struggle ahead.

And those of us who won’t see 50 again – who have creaky joints, anxieties about life slipping away and too many losses – we look back at being 50 as rather refreshing. But then again, we’ve crossed over into the new territory of slowing down, mellowing out, finding parts of ourselves we hadn’t even known were there. So would we slip back 10 or 20 or even 30 years? Yes. No. Maybe.

My husband is blessed with age equanimity: he has said – and meant – that he’s loved every age on the timeline. Yes, he misses the  “early middle” years when the uncertainties of youth were behind him, the professional quest was still ahead of him and old age was beyond the horizon. He was happiest as an on-site father, yet once our daughters left, he never missed the chaperoning of those ghastly middle school dances, the car pools, broken hearts, endless diets and bouts of the blues.

For me, there was something quite marvelous about the years when the house crackled with its own energy field, and the sophomore class designed the homecoming float in our garage. I still yearn for the very things I thought I’d never miss – the noise, confusion, chaos and downright craziness of the kids-at-home stage of life.

That stage began for me when I greeted our first child at 22, and said goodbye to the last one on a college campus when I was 46. Too  young to retire – too old to start medical school.

At that dinner party, we certainly didn’t come to any brilliant conclusions. We did come to know one another better as we dug into the mystery of what matters when – and why it does.

And then two old-marrieds went home to settle down on our familiar pillows and go to bed. It was a chilly night. And as we said goodnight, I warmed my icy feet on his, as I have for the last 52 years. And before we drifted off to sleep, I thought, “Yes, this is the best stage of all.”

December 2013
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