A few weeks ago I turned forty-one. We observed the day with barely a splash of fanfare: a movie (Moonrise Kingdom, which we loved), a bite to eat (the blazing cashew curry bowl at Brown’s Socialhouse, which I recommend to no one ever), and a strange stroll around a mini golf course that combined Victorian street lamps with fake palm trees. It was a low-key evening, but forty-one is not an age that lends itself to celebration.
For one thing, there’s its unfortunate position right after forty. Forty is a tough act to follow. After celebrating your fortieth, who cares about the next few? Forty is the universal age of adulthood for men in Western societies, the last possibly threshold of maturity before middle age hits.
My life insurance policy agrees wholeheartedly. According to the actuarial tables for “Healthstyle C” (don’t ask me because I don’t know) I am most likely to drop over dead at 81. This is the age at which Robert Altman, that heavyset, weed-puffing, cancer-ridden director, finally passed. Part of me thinks that I’m going to beat the insurance industry at its own game and maybe wrangle a few more years out of this body. But then, another part of me believes that I’m going to live forever, which should tell you what human convictions are worth in the face of reality.
I know that mortality rates are changing. When I look at my family history, though, a pattern emerges: on both sides of my family, the men consistently fail to make that eight-decade mark. Cancers and heart disease cop the lot.
What this means is that I’ve hit Peak Life on the bell curve of my existence. I’ve extracted about as much anabolic action as I’m likely to get, and now I’m skating along that plateau before the inevitable catabolic drop. I hope that drop will be steep (but not too steep!) when I get there. I’d like a swift and relatively painless end, a smooth glide into nothingness that gives me just enough time to say goodbye and do whatever else people do in these circumstances. Lay in bed and confuse the doctor for my childhood pharmacist, most likely.
Even for those who don’t literalize their unconscious belief in immortality by ginning up a cloud-cushioned afterlife, it’s hard to come to terms with growing older. Part of me persists in thinking that I must be exempt from the process. But the signposts have all arrived on cue: in my early twenties my hair started to recede; by my mid-thirties I started to sprout silver hairs in the dense dark brown and red of my stubble; now, in my forties, more subtle signs are beginning to appear. My eyes are slowly moving farther back into my head. I’ve hit a point when keeping my weight trimmed down would make my face look hollow. Most disturbing of all, my neck is starting to take on a corded look. I see it in stray photos, or in the glass of my iPhone. This is the start of my middle-aged body. I’ve never had one before, and I’m not looking forward to some aspects of it. Will I start becoming the target market for Celebrex? Lipitor? Viagra?
What I’m hoping for, more than ever before, is wisdom. This is supposed to be the point at which my declining ability to memorize strings of numbers and just where I left the deodorant is compensated for by an ability to put together the lessons I’ve learned over my life and create something greater than the mass of bits and words and factoids I’ve gathered. That sounds like a cheat on the laws of thermodynamics to me.
The secret (I don’t know why I’m suddenly switching to talk of secrets here, but wisdom seems to consist of open secrets) may not be storing up treasures, but making new ones. At any rate, I know that in my forties, reality is no less absurd, language no less a delight, and love no less real.
Anyway, Schmutzie and I are about to do something straight-up adult: buy a condo (conditional right now on yaddah yaddah yaddah). This will keep me and my bank in a nice, cozy relationship for the next 20-25 years, I expect. If this whole thing goes through, I’ll probably look like a fifty year-old by next August.
IN’ERESTIN’ UPDATE: Commenter Kim Z is counting down to forty on her blog Listing Toward 40. Looks like forty lists before forty hits.