I used to be told, on occasion, that I look fairly young for my age. (I am now 43.) I pretended that I didn’t care when people mentioned it. The truth, of course, is that I took tremendous pride in it.
The danger in that pride (and there is nothing BUT danger in that particular sin) is that as people said it less and less, I compensated by telling myself I actually AM still young. That’s when the trouble began.
My younger colleagues at NYU Stern (so, all of them) are constantly saying things like “Let’s Venmo!” and pointing to a mason jar on their desk and saying “I brought my lunch today.” I nod along, pretending that I, too, am totally going to Venmo later and that I also stuffed my lunch into a mason jar because that’s totally normal for us young people.
Then, in the middle of a team meeting, I sneezed and threw out my back.
Now, I am no stranger to indignity. One of my gifts, however, is my ability to hide my less desirable qualities, of which there is no shortage. For example, nobody at work knows that I snore so loudly that Liz was forced to buy a sound machine that sounds like an Apache helicopter in take off. They don’t know that when I throw up, I have the mortifying tendency to shriek like a pterodactyl. Or that when my dust allergies kick in, my kids have declared that I sound like Gollum, if Gollum had been born a warthog.
So here we are, in the team meeting. I’ve just sneezed. And it’s like my lower back has a heart attack. But my back is not dead from that cardiac arrest – oh no. Death is too good for my back. This is like Han Solo frozen in carbonite: Alive, tortured, paralyzed, pained expression molded for all eternity.
But you think I mention any of that to my colleagues? Heck no.
“You okay?” one asked, because I guess I looked like I’d just been shot.
“Fine!” I gasped.
I literally did not move from my chair the rest of the day.
The thing that worries me about aging, though, isn’t actually the frailty. It’s that every day I become less and less likely to accomplish the things that I figured I would, someday, be able to do. It’s that I am forced to scratch certain things off my Life To Do List without completing them.
So here, my friends, are:
The Top Five Things I Will Probably Never Do Because I am No Longer All That Young.
1.) Learn How to Drive Stick.
I tried to learn stick shift when I lived in Prague after college. I actually bought a used car, a stick shift, thinking it would force me to learn. But my instructor didn’t speak English and my Czech was terrible so all I could understand was “Go left!” and “Go right!” and “Arrgggh!!” when I almost got side swiped by a tram. I don’t need this in my life. And my wife can drive stick. And I’m done with it.
2.) Be the Guy that Swims to the Island in the Middle of the Lake.
I can swim. I’m fine at it. I like it. But who are these guys that peel off their shirts and are all like “Race you to that island in the middle of the lake!” And I’m shouting back “I can’t, I have to make a phone call” but what I’m thinking is “I can’t, because it’ll be the last thing I ever do.”
3.) Work on Cars.
I used to think there would be a time when I could open the hood of the car and figure out what was wrong with it. Maybe tinker a bit, save big on auto mechanic bills. But I was getting my oil changed at Valvoline the other day and it took me a full minute to remember how to pop the hood. The Valvoline people could have literally told me I had no engine and I would have just handed them my credit card.
4.) Speak Italian.
I was about half an hour into Italian 101 back at UVA when I realized this was just not going to work. I can communicate a bit in French, and Italian just sounds so awesome. So I decided that when I was older and out of college and had more time, I would buy a book and teach myself.
I repeat – this is what I told myself: When I was older and out of college I would have more time. MORE time. The amount of time I spent doing nothing in college should be measured in epochs. I didn’t get it done then, and I’m not getting it done now.
How am I not juggling? I swear, every time I see somebody juggling I figure I’m one afternoon-curled-up-with-Juggling-for-Dummies away from juggling every time I walk into a room of more than two people. I imagine myself grabbing oranges and whoop! Away we go with the juggling! I imagine myself pretending like I don’t even realize I’m juggling. I catch them all behind my back and apologize sheepishly while the room breaks out in applause.
Have you seen the people who can juggle? Idiots! Idiots can juggle! Idiots, alas, who learned before they were 43 years old.
But then I take a step back. And I realize that I have put things on that Life To Do List that I never expected to put there. Things I have already completed. I have a standing desk that I use sometimes. And I cook, which I never thought I would do. And I wrote an actual book, which I also didn’t expect to do.
And I got married to a woman who loves me. And I have two healthy children. And I found that a faith that I used to mock relentlessly has, in fact, changed everything about the way I see the world.
All this makes me think I am right where God meant me to be. Not driving stick or swimming to islands or juggling fruit, but maybe other things. Maybe my Life To Do List can change. And maybe I need to give up on things I used to think were important so that I can leave blank space for things that are going to matter more. And I’m starting to get excited about what’s going in those blank spaces.
Also, I think I might put juggling back on there.