A few weeks ago, I stood before my pretty sizeable CD collection (once this was a source of pride. I suspect that in this MP3 age, it serves as a badge of shame) and randomly grabbed some George Michael to listen to.
A) Don’t you judge me! The man has a gorgeous voice, and has recorded more excellent tunes than you or I will ever have to our names. Plus which, it’s hard to write when listening to Loud And Angry Rock N’ Roll. (And I also have Throwing Muses, Garbage, Silversun Pickups, Cornershop, U2, and a random Swiss band called Pamela Cash sitting here in the pile as well. So.).
B) If I’m not mistaken, it’s the only George Michael (and/or Wham) that we own, so it really is kind of random. It’s not even Faith — it’s Older, the album he recorded in the wake of the death of his (I think) Spanish lover. There is some palpable heartbreak, and real wisdom (with a snappy beat!) here, the sort of beauty that we often miss when we’re busy feeling all above a certain art form. Not that I would ever feel that way. I’m listening to it as I type, and quite honestly, it’s a terrific piece of work.
At any rate, none of that is my point! I was struck, as I looked at the stunning, chisled George Michael peering out at me from the cover art — the word “OLDER” printed in silver just to the lower right of his beautiful mouth — that he was not really all that old when he released this album, in 1996. The internet tells me that he was born in 1963, so: 33? That’s not really all that much older than anything.
Except that of course, he felt older. He’d already been through a thing or two or twelve, and we all start out so young, that everything after, I don’t know, high school? Just feels: Older. Who knew I’d be here someday? (I remember contemplating the year 2000 when I was a kid and realizing that I would be 35 then, and it just seemed so – foreign).
And ever since my afternoon with George Michael, I’ve been thinking about this older, this endless becoming older of ours, and how we often seem to think that we know what we’ll be like when we achieve older — and yet we often don’t. Or at least, I didn’t.
I’m a year younger than Mr. Michael, and in looking for Older‘s release date in the liner notes, I had to adjust my glasses, squinting this way and that. I suspect Michael is in a similar boat right now — the human eye has a roughly 40 year warranty, and after that, biology just takes its toll. I wonder if he looks back on that title he chose, at the ripe old age of 33, and chuckles.
Already, at the ripe old age of 44, there are things that I thought would always matter to me that just don’t anymore. And I think that the surprise is not that that’s the case — after all, in my youth, I could see that some people had let certain things go in their middle years, was horrified by this, and assumed that within themselves, these middle-aged types were a little mortified themselves. The surprise is that I’m rarely mortified by it.
I am still me, and there is much that mattered to me then that matters to me still (the first question, for instance, that I always want to ask new acquaintances, to this day, is: “What music do you like?” I no longer do so, though, because mostly this is not a question that the over-25 crowd asks), but there is much that just doesn’t anymore. The other day I glanced at a young woman wearing something or other that was clearly a fashion statement involving a really wide belt, and I thought to myself that back when we wore those same ugly belts in the 1980s, it was all part of a much larger gestalt, involving geometric shapes, and cantilevered hair, and shoulder pads. “It was a whole THING!” I thought. And then it hit me, like a bolt out of the blue: Maybe it’s a whole THING for her, too! I am just no longer interested in what that THING may happen to be. Not that she shouldn’t care — just that I don’t.
And I suspect that this holds true for bigger issues and weightier questions, down the line.
I worry about aging — I don’t like to admit it, but I do. I worry about how it will feel to be the goofy-looking old woman with discolored skin and hair that won’t lie flat and I can’t get my mascara on right anymore but I keep doing it, because it’s part of how I understand myself and I can’t see well enough to see that it looks awful. I spend time hoping that I will have people around me who love me enough to say “Grandma, enough with the mascara already.” I worry about how it will feel to know that I can’t — I don’t know — walk to the corner anymore, or drive, or read regular-sized type.
These worries focus, I think, on issues of respectability and pride and a sense of self. How will it feel to watch pieces of me, parts of my body and parts of my spirit, fall away from usefulness? How will it feel to move in society as this new old person?
Of course, please God, I should be so lucky. I am now nearly ten years older than my own father will ever be, and it’s the lucky among us who get to earn our liver spots.
But also, in the wake of noting the one-word title of a 16 year old CD, it has struck me that, when the time comes, I will be that old person. I will have been through a thing or two or twelve, and I will not then feel about it as I do now. Some things will be losses, and I will mourn them — and some things will just be. And I can’t know, from this distance, what those things are.
There is no grand conclusion to all of this. At least, not until I shuffle off this mortal coil, hopefully in some grand and glorious — or at least pain-free — fashion.
I hope there’s more joy than pain in growing older, and I hope that I maintain a modicum of dignity, because not all of us get to do that. Other than that, I think I pretty much just have to let it happen. I hope George Michael gets to, too. Dude can really sing.