I'm a couple of weeks away from turning 52, and just looking at that number made me feel as if I had tumbled out of a window.
It takes just a second to reassure myself that I'm not falling yet. But aging, like gravity, is an unstoppable force. And not everyone thinks to take advantage of life before the fall. I sometimes think of living as a chore that I've left at the bottom of a to-do list for... oh, 30 years. Like finishing Ulysses (my James Joyce reading group broke up rather abruptly) or dancing shirtless at Limelight.
I feel that we're all at a cocktail party in a glittering high-rise, and everyone gets pushed out the window eventually. You can't avoid your fate by hiding in the corner and avoiding eye contact with everyone.
Some people never make it to the window. Bad luck and bad choices can mean an unnaturally early exit from the party. I'm selfishly glad that I made it this far, and certainly a little too smug about not drinking too much or taking any drugs that might have brought me to a sudden end. But I should have downed some of those raw oysters (everyone who ate them seems fine!) and been bolder about putting my arm around someone on the couch.
Last week I spent a couple of days on a college campus in Washington, D.C., and I regretted how shy and buttoned-up I was when I was younger. Why didn't I grow a beard before I got gray hair? Why didn't I wear cool sunglasses and walk around in shorts and untucked shirts when I could look roguish instead of sloppy and forgetful? (A stain on a shirt means insouciance at 30 and the beginnings of senility at 60.) I wouldn't have been kicked out of the cocktail party for displaying a little color or showing a little leg.
Should I warn younger people that a lifetime isn't infinite? I can imagine going to gay bars like a missionary, taking aside twentysomethings to preach what I've learned, but I wouldn't have paid attention to someone like that when I was in my twenties. And getting a reputation as a creepy old man is not what I need for my self-esteem at this point.
So I'm going to keep away from the window as long as I can. And be less picky about what's left at the bar and buffet table.