“Forty is the old age of youth; fifty is the youth of old age.” – Victor Hugo
“Age is just a number”, as the saying goes. Well, there are numbers, and then there are NUMBERS!
50 is such a number.
I turned 50 recently, and it made me think about age, aging, and life generally more than at all other birthdays combined. There is good reason behind that. As a number, few birthdays resonate in our minds at all, really.
18: I can vote!
21: I CAN DRINK!
30: I am not a kid anymore.
When I turned 40, my wife – you’ve heard of her, she runs this website – threw me a birthday party in Midtown, at a friend’s restaurant. Great time, family and friends, but I didn’t attach special significance to the number itself.
Turning 50 seemed like an appropriate time to take stock of what I have achieved, personally and professionally; to analyze what I have done well, and not so well; and to think about the passage of time, something that I think about often, perhaps more often than most others.
I used to measure the passage of time by two events: the Super Bowl and the Kentucky Derby, two of my so-called yearly “High Holy Days”. When thinking about the past or a past year particularly I would associate that year with the winners of those events.
Now, though, I measure the passage of time through something – someone else – actually: our son. I look at our Christmas card pictures affixed to the refrigerator door – almost all of which were taken by a longtime friend of my wife’s, what luck! – and see him at one, two, three, and so on. I cannot look at the world through his eyes directly, but I can measure the passage of time through him. Now seven, I try not to treat him like he is five – not always successfully, just ask my wife – but I can see how he is maturing physically and mentally. (And two years from now, I will probably struggle not to treat him like he is seven.)
I have rarely been a good judge of guessing people’s ages. Mostly, I think, that is so because when I look in the mirror, I never “see” my age. I always see a person younger than my actual age. I am sure that is a widely-held response.
I received the following message from a friend who I see once, maybe twice, each year, though we communicate fairly regularly: “I didn’t realize it was your birthday, so Happy Birthday. How the hell are you 50!” I admit that I like seeing other people’s surprised faces and hearing their words of disbelief when I announce my age.
When researching quotes about turning 50, something stood out, though: there were many more thoughts about how you look at 50 compared to 40, and 30, and so on. Those lines were expressed, usually, by the “face” that we have at 50. However, there were many fewer quotes about what we have faced, a far more important measure than how we appear to others physically.
Among those few comments relating to what we have faced, I came across this apt quote: “By the time we hit 50, we have learned our hardest lessons. We have found out that only a few things are really important…” – Marie Dressler
The hardest lesson is discovering what is really important to you.
And that comes with age.
By Ramya Mathur
Photograph by Yeshi Kangrang on Unsplash.
Our hands have held many things in our lifetimes. Pencils. Food. Each other. Babies.
Can it hold onto memories? Can we squeeze them back into our brain?
When old age comes, when memories start to fade, can we find a way to make sure we hold on to our most precious memories?
What if it isn’t old age but something else? What if your brain refuses to cooperate? What if your brain is like a sieve? It holds onto the ‘big’ memories but lets go of the smaller ones.
Almost like it has a mind of its own. Almost like it remembers things it wants to but forgets everything else.
It remembers the day your child was born. It remembers what jasmine smells like. It remembers that two weeks ago, you passed the same homeless man on the street and he smiled at you.
But it forgets simple math. It forgets train numbers. It forgets cross streets and building numbers.
It remembers how the back of your husband’s hands feel like. How the sound of your child’s laughter still brightens your day.
It forgets how much sugar he likes in his tea. It forgets how many more stops to go on the train. It forgets which exit to take to your father’s house. It forgets the year you bought your car.
Memories are tricky like that. How do you keep them safe?
Can we house them in crystal balls? Can I take pictures of my memories and stick them in books to look at when I feel like I have forgotten? I wish I could.
I would rather house memories in my mind where they should reside, rather than anywhere else. But maybe that’s too much to ask of my body at this point. Maybe it’s better to accept things I cannot change and work on preserving memories I currently can access.
Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to stop worrying about what I cannot control and start making new memories. And hopefully these, I remember to capture on film.
This way, at least for the future, I’m covered.
By Ramya Mathur
The Indian Railways make a peculiar sound. It’s hard to describe and harder still to duplicate. If you have never ridden on one of the blue and white trains (or brown), I cannot describe it for you. It’s sort of rhythmic thrum. A beating heart.
The sound always brings a smile to my face.
I can almost feel the sway and rhythm of the train when I listen to it now. The sound it makes as it picks up speed. The horn, as it blares a warning to oncoming trains and stations. The ‘whooshing’ of the engine as it cools down.
I never actively catalogued these things when I lived in India, but after living abroad for nearly 23 years, one of the things I miss the most are the train journeys.
Madras (Sorry, Chennai) — Bengaluru or Hyderabad — Guntur. We were always traveling on the Railways during my childhood. Packing a massive loaf of Nilgiri’s bread and jam and bottles of water to tide us over until we reached our destination. Buying tea and coffee in the tiny little plastic cups from the kids who travel in the train. My grandfather… who insisted on buying Indo-Chinese food for every single person in the party (and there were a lot of us) when we traveled once from Bengaluru to Calcutta on a trip.
Worrying when my father/uncle/friend would get down at a station to buy some food. Then the train leaves the station and they don’t show up in our car right away. The instant panic that bloomed when trying to guess if they had made it back to the train on time or not.
The memories just keep pouring in.
I found an audio recording recently of a train journey. Listening to it made me the happiest I have felt recently. And sad, too. Sad because I miss the feeling of sticking my fingers out of the barred windows, of drinking out of school water bottles packed carefully from home, making new friends on the train, blowing up train pillows, complaining about climbing up to the highest berth to sleep..
And just standing in the doorway of the train watching India pass by. The sound of the wheels picking up speed. I miss it all.