Go ahead, walk through our home, spot a picture of me when I was young, and say, “You used to be cute.”
My turn to have a young face, a young body, is over. It’s someone else’s turn. It’s my turn for gray hair, and maybe the descriptive word “distinguished.”
Yes, it’s my turn to be 74 ½ years old. Not everyone gets their turn at that, including my mother and three of my siblings. Those who do get a turn each experience being 74 through their own lens of judgments, expectations, and awareness. It’s my hope to live each day of the rest of my life with moment-by-moment exhilaration for the turns I get to have, and gratitude for the turns that I have had.
Whenever I catch myself reminiscing about my youth, and envying the lifestyles of those who are younger than me, I remind myself that I’ve already been where they are, and done what they’re doing. I’ve been a carefree, innocent child, a rebellious teenager, and a college student who wondered what my future held. I’ve had my turn at getting rock-hard erections, having a razor-sharp memory, and being pain-free. My turn is up for being 7, 18, 32, 45, 59, and 70. I hope I took advantage of being all of those ages. I have few regrets, and I don’t live a life of “What ifs?”
I’ve had a privileged life that allowed me to experience the preceding stages as fully as I could as a gay man growing up in the U.S. Now, I get to figure out what being 74 is possibly about. What is lost and what is gained by being at this stage of my life? Sometimes, I imagine going back and doing it all over again, but without the angst, the confusion, and the insecurity I had the first time around. Those are feelings I don’t now miss at all. But I can’t go back, and it would be selfish of me to try. It’s someone else’s turn.
There are some seemingly consistent characteristics to the stages of life, influenced of course by our sex, race, nationality, religion, education, physical ability, and economic opportunity. Having pimples as teenagers, for example, is probably to be expected, as is peeing without difficulty for most young people. We go through stages of infancy, of dependence upon our parents, questioning authority, a desire to experiment, to push the envelope, and a need to settle down. There’s a time for drinking too much, playing music too loud, and staying up all night. I’ve had my turn at all of those stages. Other people are experiencing them now. It’s their turn. My turn for being an adolescent is over, as is my turn for being 30 and middle-aged.
There is a Circle of Life. We are born and we die. In between, we grow physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The beginning and the end are what they are supposed to be, as is each decade of life. The characteristics of the various stages of life change with the evolution of the world. For instance, I colored with crayons at the same age as youngsters today surf the Internet. But physical and emotional development is not all that different from generation to generation.
It’s a privilege to be 74, and there’s no rule book on how I should experience it. When I was finished gardening today, I felt very satisfied with my work, it was fun and meaningful to me, but my body screamed at me that I had overdone it. And yet, when I jumped into the pool, I felt as if I was 12. Each time I climbed the steps to get out of the pool, I allowed myself to fall back into the water. So, my being 74 allows for my body to perform but with the risk of overdoing it, and a spirit of fun that I’ve not left behind in childhood.
Some people resent their age, and their stage of life. It saddens me that many others my age spend their days and nights fighting against it being their turn to experience life as a senior. It’s a great, unearned gift to live for 74 years and to still be healthy, active, fulfilled and happy. What I most like about my life is my desire now to manage incessant thoughts, and to be aware of all of my senses at the moment. I love that there is less drama, and less desire to squeeze in every activity before I die. I don’t need to skydive in order for my life to feel complete.
I expect that several generations of humans in the future will see and be grateful for all of the work we Baby Boomers have done to expand the cultures’ understanding and appreciation of the full spectrum of sexual attraction and gender identity and expression, as well as our growth into a spirituality that is free of doctrine and dogmas. We have successfully linked spirituality, mental health, and self-love. What we may also contribute to the evolution of our species is an awareness of, and an embrace with gratitude of, the dynamics of each of life’s stages. We seniors have the opportunity to role model the ease with which we can release our designated time slot and move on to new, exciting, fulfilling experiences.
Brian McNaught has been a leading educator on LGBTQ issues globally since 1974. He has made his many books and DVDs available for free at Brian-McNaught.com. The New York Times named him “The Godfather of gay diversity training.” Brian has a weekly YouTube/FaceBook podcast called, “Are You Happy Without the Movie?” and McNaught's latest book, “On Being Gay and Gray: Our Stories, Gifts, and the Meaning of Our Lives” is available now on Amazon for $14.99.