I sat in the back of the yellow school bus with a bunch of fifth graders in front of me, including my daughter. We were headed to the skating rink uptown. My daughter told me that if I didn’t go, she would be the only kid without a parent. As it turned out, I was one of the few parents who were suckered into coming.
As I bobbed up and down in this crudely built vehicle, Oliver Sacks’ story popped into my head, about the man who was forever stuck in 1945 because he could not keep new memories, not even for a few minutes. He was shocked to see himself as an old man in a mirror every morning.
I thought to myself, to some degree, we are all like that. From birth to about twenty, our bodies and inner selves mature in sync, but after that, they go out of sync. In our 40′s, this divergence becomes quite noticeable. Now I see that even septuagenarians are boys and girls inside of their aging bodies. Kids can’t see this because we become quite good at putting up a facade of maturity as we age, especially once we become parents.
But if we are to be age-appropriate, how are we supposed to feel inside? Weak, slow, and aching? What if we honestly don’t feel that way? How are we to reconcile how we feel inside with how we look outside? It seems only natural that we are shocked to see our aging face in a mirror every morning.
Our culture forces us to behave age-appropriately and to conceal the fact that we are still boys and girls inside. Some choose to match their outside with inside by obsessively working out or by getting plastic surgeries. Some choose to match their inside with outside by obsessing about saving, retirement, and material comfort.
But why match them? If we feel like boys and girls inside but look like old men and women, why not accept the discrepancy? I think this discrepancy is culturally manufactured. It’s not real. We are conditioned to think of it as a discrepancy when in fact is the natural experience of aging.
The bus stopped at a traffic light. Many pedestrians passed by just below my window. I imagined what they would see if they looked up: a middle-aged man sitting silently among a bunch of elementary school kids. For a moment I felt embarrassed, but I said to myself, “Fuck it. This is actually who I am. A little boy who looks awkwardly old.”