In the last few days, I've been scanning photos from my senior year of high school onto our family server. I've been knee-deep in nostalgia.
My early teen years were defined by my general social ostracization. As an opinionated, then self-assured, new kid in a small town, the swift, round rejection by my peers was complete by the beginning of 8th grade. But sometime after my junior year, I began to slowly pull myself out of the rubble of my crushed spirit and explore and relish, my own identity. If ever there was a time in my life when I was at the pinnacle of my confidence and receptiveness to new experiences, it was my senior year. Specifically, from November 1993 through September 1994. They were bookends: 1. my first big solo trip that crystallized my sense of self-sufficiency (it was to DC, my then-favorite and highly-romanticized city), and 2. the first stirrings that we may not be able to afford a complete year of college, which began to chip away at that same sense. (In the end, I had to drop out at the semester due to lack of funds.)
That year seems like yesterday. Okay: mostly yesterday. Last week, we'll say. When I was 18, though, my 30s seemed so ridiculously far away. So far away, in fact, that I actually doubted I'd reach them. My inability to imagine myself over 30, and my own ego, led me to believe that like James Dean I'd rock the world with my talent and then meet an untimely death, immortalized forever by a brilliant performance and a fuckin' awesome portrait of some sort, preferably captured by Annie Lebowitz. I would be young forever.
Well, I'm not old. I still feel young. So, I must be young, right?
Friday, Honey delivered some news to me that put me back in my chronological place. "I had to visit one of my guys in the hospital, today," he told me as I prepped the salmon for dinner.
"Oh my god! What happened?"
"Is he doing okay? One of your older guys?" As if that question had to be asked. Who has a heart attack under the age of 50, anymore?
"He's doing fine. No. He's 36."
36. Let me write that again:
I'll be 33, soon. Just five years younger than my father was at his first heart attack. My cholesterol always hovers around - often above - the danger zone. Not good. NOT GOOD! But I'm in decent shape, right? Not the slimmest I've ever been, but still a healthy weight for my height.
"Was he morbidly obese or something?" I implored. (Gotta find something to cling to.)
I winced. I could feel the grim reaper rest his bony fingers on my shoulder.
"But he's a smoker. And our job is really stressful. And he had a family history ... basically, of all the big indicators, his weight was the only thing that wasn't a factor."
It has been almost six months since I scaled back my work hours to part time. I did it to re-evaluate interests, focus on my chronic health concern and reduce my stress. I put "reduce my stress" at the bottom of list because, while a concern for me, it wasn't the biggest reason I wanted to scale back to part time. However, knowing what I know of my family heart health history, and hearing the story of my husband's young employee, I'm now thinking low-stress should be a key aspect to every job I seek hereafter. Maybe the reduced stress has already been stealthily saving my life.
I'm old enough now to know that my 50s aren't forever away, nor are my 60s or even 70s. My imagination does allow me to see myself older, and my adolescent ego has mellowed. I want to offer my talents and gifts to the world, but I'm happy to let them slowly trickle out. No need for a single, glorious, creative eruption. This means, of course, that I would like to live to a ripe old age and learn and give for years to come. And that means that I need to stop assuming my body will self-repair the way it did when I was 18 ... which was not, despite my grand delusions, last week.
(photo courtesy of flickr.com creative commons. asirap photostream.)