Four months ago today, as I was leaving one of the many public libraries in my country, I chanced upon a makeshift bookshelf near the exit that displayed a series of books about dementia and health issues facing the elderly.
At first, I didn’t think much of it. These are probably monthly-rotated showcases. The next time I visit, there’ll likely be a different set of books on display, based on a different theme for the month or week. As for the one I saw, the librarians probably wanted to spotlight health issues the aged should pay attention to. In my opinion, the aged would refer to anyone 65 and older.
However, as I turned to leave, my eyes caught sight of the bookshelf’s display sign and caption, and I did a double take! The caption announced in bold letters:
“Adventures for the 50 plus — Time of Your Life.”
What??!! I’m now in my 50s myself. Is the library saying to me that dementia and health issues are equivalent to the Time of My Life?? How insulting! Surely it can’t be, right? Surely it’s a typo, and they meant to say 70 or at least 60 plus, right? Not that I would call having dementia or any debilitating mental illness the time of anyone’s life, no matter the age.
I’m sure the good folks at the library didn’t mean to be so obtuse. And for sure, when you pass 50, your mind and body are most certainly on a gradual descent. Not even Jane Fonda, known for her famous fitness workouts and regimes to combat aging, would dispute that!
But it does speak to what the librarians in my country –and maybe everyone in fact — consider as aged: Me!
After recovering from the shock that display bookshelf gave me, I did a search online and found an article by the Alzheimer’s Association that gave me some cause for pause. The article stated that global incidences of what’s called YOD or Young-Onset Dementia are in the region of nearly 120 cases for every 100,000 people. That’s nearly 1.4 million folks. These cases of YOD are generally aged between 30 and 64.
So perhaps my country’s dear librarians were on to something!
Why can’t my youth follow me into my 50s?
If I close my eyes now, I can still easily call up memories of my younger days. School uniforms. Playground games. Friends. Bullies. Pimples. Prom nights. Wrestling with self-worth and identity. You know, the usual stuff.
However, these recalls can be deceptive. They often deceive me into thinking that time hasn’t really moved that far along. How can it, right? Especially if it takes so little effort for me now to recollect memories of things I did — studying, camping, watching coming-of-age movies like The Breakfast Club and Top Gun, reading and re-reading fantasy novel series like The Belgeriad and Dragonlance Chronicles. To conjure in an instant feelings I had when I was a teenager — feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, rebelliousness, and even puppy love.
In the last two decades that I’ve been teaching, I’ve even lulled myself into believing that, just as my teenage students appear to defy Father Time, and magically remain the same age, so too have I. Talk about blatant self-deception!
These days, I’m less naive. Now, when I move between classrooms from one lesson to the next, or across the large quadrangle in the center of the school compound, the youths I see that mingle around or stroll pass me feel more like walking alarm clocks. More than anything else, they remind me that, like it or not, I’m in my 50s now.
And I’m old.
Why oh why can’t my youthful days follow me into my 50s?
Diving deeper into the 50s for the time of my life
Admittedly, I was tempted that day at the library to remove those books on that 50s display bookshelf. To replace them with books that have more “upbeat” themes like, say, travel or preparing well for retirement.
But I didn’t of course, not wanting to provoke a scene
Instead, I told myself that this visual assault should spur me to investigate what being in the 50s now means for me. And how I can make it the time of my life. Or for that matter, how to make any remaining decades I’m privileged to live through in the future, the “time of my life”.
Before, I did muse about this fifth decade of my life in a piece I posted when I turned 50. Perhaps it’s time to revisit that again. To use it as a starting point to pursue more deeply what can make the 50s the time of my life.
For now, I don’t know what I’ll uncover.
I only hope it’s not what I saw that day four months ago on that library bookshelf!