Best Sledding May Await You Over The Hill

ALICE STEINBACH

March 01, 1992|By ALICE STEINBACH

It was one of those unexpected moments of self-discovery where, if I'd been a cartoon character, the artist would have drawn a light bulb going off over my head.

What happened was this. While leafing through the pages of a recent Sunday paper, I was drawn to a caption in an article about a fashion designer that said: "For the most part her fun-and-funky looks appeal to those on the kinder side of 35."

Under the impression they were talking about women like me -- which is to say, women over 35 -- I began to read the article.

It took only a minute, of course, to realize I was wrong in my assumption. It turned out that those women on the "kinder side of 35" were on a different side of that figure from me: the younger side.

I, apparently, am on the "unkinder" part of the dividing line.

Which brings me back to the sudden Click! of self-discovery I experienced. What I realized so strongly in that moment, I decided, was that I like being older than 35. And that I regard HTC this part of my life as a place in which I'm happy.

In fact, it occurred to me that if age could be equated with geographical places, then youth is the equivalent of Miami Beach: it's superficially beautiful -- full of excess and a confusion of styles -- and it exists in a climate of too much heat.

To elaborate: Youth is a place where you're always trying to find a role or a style that suits you. A community that fits you. A job that interests you. Friends who understand you. A passionate love that completes you.

Youth is a place whose inhabitants think they are capable of doing anything and having everything.

And youth is a place where the local currency is intensity and change and passion.

It's a place, in other words, so exciting and stimulating that none of us would want to exclude it from our life's itinerary.

So is it any wonder that youth is a place where we often find ourselves wanting to stay forever? Is it any wonder we dread the thought of finally having to move on to -- dare I say it? -- a place called maturity?

For if youth is the equivalent of Miami Beach, then maturity, as we all know, is the equivalent of Peoria, Ill.: dull, staid, full of compromises and a place near the end of the line.

It was a sentiment expressed in this exchange in "When Harry Met Sally:"

Sally, crying: "I'm going to be 40."

Harry: "When?"

Sally: "In eight years. But it's just sitting there like this big dead-end."

To which I say: Wrong.

Life on the other side of the Great Divide is actually our reward for having survived the all the Sturm und Drang of youth. It is not Peoria, it is London: civilized, full of treasures and a place both exciting and stable.

Maybe the process of aging has gotten a bad rap because maturity sometimes is confused with sacrifice. That being mature means giving to everyone else while denying yourself. The fact is, what's fun about being older is that, finally, you know how to give and take.

Chronological age is often seen as an arc across one's life: You ascend your years like a mountain -- the summit being reached at middle age -- and then the descent begins. At that point, you're "over the hill." Or it's "all downhill" from there on in.

Think about it: When you were a child, which was more fun? Dragging your sled up the steep, slippery side of a hill or coasting down the hill with the wind behind you?

And speaking of children, with "maturity" comes the opportunity to let go a little and regress back to the playfulness of childhood, to the spontaneity and pleasure that comes from being less worried about what others think of you.

In some ways, if you're open to it, growing older means growing younger. But without some of the drawbacks of youth.

For me the best part of growing older is the freeing up of a lot of energy that in youth I devoted to fulfilling other people's expectations. It's quite exciting, actually -- this freedom to explore how you really feel about things once you've put into perspective the old allegiances that shaped so much of your view of the world.

In my own life I've found myself re-examining my attitude toward everything: family life, friendship, love, politics, art, my work, where I live, how I live, and on and on. Friends call it my "revisionist period."

They're right, too: This is my revisionist period. To my surprise -- surprise because I frankly didn't think I was flexible enough to do this -- I've changed my views on a number of things.

Including this: After much honest soul-searching I now see that, despite my former convictions in this area, I am never going to be able to sing on key.

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