Adolescent Angst at an Advanced Age

The best part of melting into a puddle of hot wax, gravity spilling it into low spots in one’s mental terrain, is that hot wax eventually cools and becomes malleable. After a day and an evening of allowing myself the luxury of fear and anger, this morning I’m cooling into a lump I can mold into something presentable. One must be presentable on one’s birthday, mustn’t one? Yes, today marks my official entry into geezerhood, though I’ve been claiming membership since I was in my early fifties. I’ve said for years that one becomes a geezer when one “attains adequate age and eccentricity.” Inasmuch as I am by proclamation the arbiter of the definition of geezerhood, I get to decide the adequacy of both attributes. Pretty slick, huh? There are days I’d like to be the arbiter of things of more grave import, like whether all members of a governmental administration are subject to being dispatched through the use of a heavy-duty wood chipper. All right, enough of that little slither toward darkness!

Today, I reached sixty-five years of age. That stuns me. I have always believed I was destined to be younger than that. And I believe it still. I am no more sixty-five years old than doughnuts are made by mixing cement with powdered meat. The very idea is anathema to me! Okay, I’ll admit my physical age has reached that spot on the calendar. Mentally, though, I feel very much like an adolescent, still poking around my psyche in the hope of finding something that, once and for all, allows me to understand and articulate who I am. Apparently, adolescents are slow on the uptake. That something obviously doesn’t exist. Finally, on the morning of my sixty-fifth birthday, I’m coming to realize that we never finish understanding nor articulating who we are; we’re in a process of perpetual change. There’s no moment in time at which we can say with rectitude, “This is precisely who I am,”  Defining this is a lifelong endeavor. And it’s never finished.

For most people, though, the pursuit of the unanswerable question of who am I? does not become a fixation the way it seems to be for me. Most people either get used to the idea that they’ll never know or they delude themselves into thinking they do know. But I have never been able to satisfy myself in those ways. Even this morning, as my sixty-fifty year begins to unfold and I’ve just announced that I know the question can never lead to an answer, something nags at me. Intellectually, I understand that the question has no definitive answer. But emotionally I think the answer is there, somewhere, hidden under a hitherto unused fold of cerebral matter. If I look long and hard enough, I’ll find it. What I’ll do with it once I discover it is beyond me.

But back to the wax with which I may mold myself into something presentable. If I allow it to cool too fast or harden too much, I’ll become stiff and inflexible. But if I attempt to shape it before it cools enough, I’ll flow into an unrecognizable flow of goo. The key is to allow the wax to reach and maintain a fictile stage, a point at which I can bend and shape myself to respond to the world around me.

I vaguely remember thinking, as a teenager, that I needed to leave some of my youthful attitudes behind me as I entered adulthood. I still feel that way. Some of my ideas and attitudes about life are better suited to a teenager than to an avowed geezer. I guess I’m still wrestling with adolescent angst at an advanced age. And I’ll keep seeking an answer to that unanswerable question: who am I, at my core?

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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