I was in the midst of a sweaty throng of other rock fans jumping up and down to my fave live band (Pixies), feeling super fucking happy.
They’re not everyone’s cup of tea, and I can understand that, but something about their discordant, jarring, sometimes screamy, sometimes melodic and always ironic songs speak to my soul. But mostly I love them by chance.
It was a timing thing. It happened in my first year of university. I’d finished school, moved out of home, left the small country town I grew up in and moved to the big smoke. It couldn’t have come soon enough. Finally, I had my long lusted for independence, responsibility was yet to catch up, and life was still a fairytale waiting to happen.
Some study happened, but what I remember most is sitting in friends’ small college rooms, smoking cigarettes, listening to new music and learning to play guitar. So when I hear their music it takes me back to those very happy times.
But you know what happened as I was jumping around in pure ecstasy? I had a nasty little thought.
I wondered if I still had any right to behave like this.
Fine at 20, but what about 41? Was it a bit sad? Like your parents thinking they’re still cool?
Now, now, nobody likes a whiner, so this would be the time for me to turn it around and say, “No way, it’s totally okay and life is much better at 41 than 20.”
Only that would be a lie.
You get wrinkles, grey hairs start to appear, aches and pains materialize out of nowhere, and muscle tone is no longer a given but something fiercely fought for (if you can be bothered). And I don’t care what anyone says about 40 being fabulous. It’s a fucking lie told by people in their 40s.
And aside from all the physical stuff, life can be really cruel. Your heart gets broken, you break hearts, people disappoint you, you disappoint people, and mostly you disappoint yourself. You get to the point where those hopes and dreams you had for your life are no longer something that will magically happen in the future, that shit’s gotta happen yesterday, so you feel a bit miffed with your own laziness.
Sounds pretty fucking depressing doesn’t it?
But the really weird thing is, despite the ravages of time, I’m a lot happier at 41 than I was at 20, largely because I give way less of a fuck what anyone thinks about me.
Now back to that sweaty throng of happy rock fans. No sooner had that nasty little thought arisen than it was blown away by the knowledge that frankly, I didn’t give a damn whether or not it was appropriate. It felt good, it was fun, and that was all that mattered. The freedom of not giving a fuck is the best sort of freedom there is.
There are plenty of other pretty great things about getting older too. First, as much as I loved it, I don’t smoke anymore, which means that I didn’t have to stand right up the back of the gig in the designated smoking area (so un-rock n’ roll) and as I wasn’t marinating myself in beer I also didn’t have to wait in line with a bursting bladder to use the vile portaloos. And I didn’t wake up with a hangover, reeking of cigarette smoke.
Here are some other things that have improved with time…
I’ve transformed from a fiery banshee to a calm samurai. If Karate Kid and I had a standing crane competition he’d be so utterly defeated by my calm, centered focus that he’d be straight back to painting Mr. Miyagi’s fence and washing his car. Okay so maybe that is not entirely true. I still have a quick temper but I am definitely a lot better at taking a few deep breaths instead of reacting immediately. This is an incredibly valuable skill for dealing with…well the human race basically.
As I said earlier, I am actually a lot happier these days. It comes from feeling more comfortable in my skin, crinklier though it is. And I’m better at recognizing happiness when it’s in front of me. I’ve learned that happy is not some perfect destination that needs to be travelled to, it’s like a butterfly fluttering quietly and gently on my periphery waiting to be seen. But capturing it takes some skill. It’s mostly not the big, exciting moments that contain happiness, more often it’s snapshots like a beautiful flower, a good climbing tree, a last sip of coffee, a hug, a sunset or often just a feeling.
I’m more patient.
If there’s one thing getting older teaches, it’s patience. The older I get, the more I notice patterns, seasons, cycles and processes. And this helps with feeling calmer too. I no longer expect things to happen immediately or on a timeframe set by me. I know there are plenty of philosophies that teach this, but some things need to be lived to be understood.
I’m more responsible.
Now let’s get one thing straight here. I don’t mean in a boring, practical, “adulting” way. I mean in a pulling aspirations into the present, instead of keeping them somewhere in the future way. I could say it’s because I’m growing up and becoming more sage in my age, but the truth is, it’s simply due to the fact that there aren’t so many years left. So the brand of responsibility I’m talking about is self-responsibility for the sort of person I would like to be, the goals I’d like to achieve, and the contribution (however small that might be) to making the world just a little bit nicer.
I’m more self-disciplined.
This one goes hand in hand with the previous one. Being more responsible takes discipline. 20 was fun, but if I was caught in that time I’d still be smoking cigarettes, drinking beer, not giving much of a hoot about anyone but myself. Every day would be a hedonistic crusade. While that does actually sound pretty good, it’s got a very finite “use by date.” There’s only so long that sort of living can continue to bring happiness. It’s the willingness to put up with some short-term pain for long-term gain, like daily writing for example. Often it feels like having my fingernails pulled out, but when I sit my ass down and push through the excuses and finish something I’m proud of, it makes me feel like I’ve earned my place on earth. I’ll take that over the irresponsible hedonism of 20 any day.
And, I give less of a fuck.
I already mentioned this one, but it’s worth expanding on because it’s the most fucking excellent thing about getting older. Not giving a fuck brings greater self-confidence, bravery, and freedom. When you do not give a fuck about the opinions of others you have the freedom to be the self you have inside, and the bravery to do things you want to do instead of doubting yourself. Every great person who ever walked this earth had to first cultivate the capacity for not giving a fuck before they could give a fuck about something worthwhile.
So yeah getting older takes its toll, but the daily rigors of life make warriors out of anyone brave enough to face up to the training with full awareness and acceptance, day after day.
And that is fucking cool.