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When you’re young, if you’ve got a reasonably good life, it’s easy to feel that things are always getting better. You’re constantly moving forward, learning new things, climbing career ladders, building a life. But eventually, one reaches a point where life isn’t so much about climbing and building anymore; you’ve pretty much become the person you’re going to be and built the life you’re going to have, and it’s more about enjoying what you’ve got and working to maintain it. For as long as you can, anyway, because you know nothing lasts forever. The robust health of youth eventually fails; your career winds down; the children grow up and leave; it’s the way of things. (I suppose this is the definition of middle age.)

Viewed in that way, your life reaches a peak (or, if you’re lucky, a plateau), after which things start getting worse rather than better. And if that’s the way things work, I can’t help but conclude that I have now begun that downward slope. Asked today to choose a favorite age from my life, I would be tempted to choose from the many times when my life seemed to hold so much more promise and excitement. There was my childhood, when I was free to dwell largely in my own imagination; my college years, when the future was nothing but endless possibilities; the early years of our marriage, when we wielded the amazing power to build the life we wanted; and, towering over them all, the breathless excitement of our headlong rush into parenthood. It would be easy to say “those were the good times,” especially for someone as susceptible to nostalgia as I am.

But here’s the thing: I wouldn’t want to go back, even if I could.

It’s overly simplistic to compare different parts of my life and judge which is “better,” because life is a terribly complex thing, and assessing it is complicated by the distortion of rose-colored glasses. Each of those wonderful, exciting times from my past also had its share of sadness or frustration. The question, really, is simply whether any given time in my life has things in it that bring me happiness; I am, after all, here in this moment, and all that really matters is what my life is now.

I would not want to be any age other than the one I am, because this is who I am, this is my life, and there are things in it that I would not want to give up. It might be fun to revisit 1987 and remember how much I enjoyed working at the student radio station, but I’d also have to remember how much it hurt to be away from Lynn so much of the time. Similarly, I might want to go back to 2000 and reacquaint myself with the toddler Laura; but I’d much rather spend time with the almost-teenager version, who is much more interesting to talk to.

Looking forward to the years still ahead of me, I hope that I will still have many opportunities to grow and learn, to build new things, and maybe even climb a ladder or two. But more importantly, I hope that I am always able to keep my life full of things that make it worth living. I’m not really all that concerned about how full the glass is, as long as it’s always got something in it.

One Comment

  1. Lenore Berry wrote:

    This is beautiful and so true. I have been thinking along similar lines and have realized that it is important to rejoice in the moment and in the little things. You still have lots of ladders to climb, and even when you are at a stage to look back on a completed career, to know that you gave it your best will bring you joy. And most of all your family will bring you joy.

    Thursday, June 16, 2011 at 1:10 PM | Permalink