This week I’m writing about turning 40. There’s no way of knowing – I could die five minutes from now – but it always made sense to me to live as though I would reach an advanced age. (As I wrote those words, a bald gentleman walked in, shoulders back, combing his long white beard). I always thought the risk of spending part of today thinking about the future was a better value proposition than the risk of spending my future wishing I could rewrite the past.
How did we do?
Dear 80-Year-Old Me,
I’d give anything to know what you know. In fact, I guess I did. Now that I’m you, I’ve traded all my days and all my breaths to be where you are now. What does the future look like? Did our hair turn silver or white? Where are you? Do you sleep well? What are you reading? What model of phone do you have? Do they still call them phones? Did you ever figure out how to cook a decent mujadara?
Maybe it’s impertinent, but I really want to fire the Question Cannon at you full blast. I can feel your questions floating back to me. Naturally you want to know why I am making the choices I’m making. There are bound to be dozens of things you know I would do differently if I had the information you have. If only you could shout loud enough and I could hear you, down through the years! Half a lifetime lies between us, a long string tied between two paper cups. (Remember those?) You know us well enough to know I’m trying. I always try to think of you, and leave you the money and the muscle and the skills I think you could use the most.
Dear 80-Year-Old Me, I’m doing my best. I have a vision of you dying slowly in a recliner, letting our mind go blank in front of a TV set. That’s the scare tactic. We never wanted that. Did something happen to change your mind that I can’t foresee? I hope you’re laughing at these words in appreciation. We wanted to run a marathon before we turned 40, and we did that. We want/ed to run 50 miles for our 50th birthday, and I’m working on doing that, too. I’m trying to get you some good thick bones and some muscle while it’s still available for the getting. There are ladies your age who still have great posture and still go to the gym. Maybe you own a gym like that! Wouldn’t that be a kick?
Dear 80-Year-Old Me, have you seen the world? Did you go everywhere we planned to go? Are you fluent in various languages? Gosh, I hope so. Remember how we had this idea that learning languages would prevent cognitive decline? I certainly hope you’re having a good, hearty laugh at that, too. I’d love to hear your laugh.
Dear 80-Year-Old Me, who is our family now? Are we still married? (Ugh, maybe don’t answer that one). It’s weird for me to think that our nephews and niece might be grandparents in your time. In my time, we still have a huge family, and we don’t have much experience with loss yet. I’m trying my best to appreciate everyone who is here, and stay in touch, and love whom I can. I feel such sadness from you when I think how many funerals you’ve attended. That’s a message I can pick up loud and clear. Call more often, visit more often. I’ll try. I hope we get it right.
Dear 80-Year-Old Me, if I knew everything you were doing right now, I’d always know what to do. I’d know which opportunities were real and which were mere distractions. I could track down all the people we’re supposed to meet. I could write so many checklists. We decided a long time ago not to stand there staring into the headlights of fate, but to try to create a destiny and blaze a trail. I’ll make every mistake possible, and there’s nothing you can do from your vantage point to try to wave me away from some dead ends. I can promise you, though, that I’ll keep moving and working for us and building a life we can agree is interesting and worth living.
Dear 80-Year-Old Me, I love you so much. We’ve made a good team. It helps me every day to know you’re there waiting and watching over me and loving me from afar. In so many weird ways, it’s like you’re my grandmother, even though you’re really more of my grandchild. We’ve made each other who we are.
One last question: What file format are you reading this in?
Me/Us/You Little Whippersnapper
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.