(Host) Commentator W.D. Wetherell just celebrated a birthday that has caused him to reflect – more than usual – on fall and the passage of time.
(Wetherell) I’ve just turned 55, which means,let’s face it, I’m not middle middle-aged anymore, but late middle-aged. An “aging boomer” to put me in the appropriate media cubbyhole, though there really hasn’t been much written about this unique stage of life. A person’s fifties represent a largely unknown zone, a decade you’re expected to barge through with your mouth stoically shut; it’s far past the time to talk of “mid-life crises”, but too early yet to talk about being “over the hill.”
And yet a person’s fifties can be the most testing decade of all, real crunch time when it comes to the trial by existence we all undergo. If you don’t know who you are at 55, then it’s tempting to say you’ll never know – and yet here we are, men and women both, suddenly dealing with the most profound and troubling physical and emotional changes since puberty, so who we are becomes, yet again, a work in progress.
Whether 55 turns out to be a cliff over which I tumble, a trampoline where I bounce up and down in pretty much the same place, or a springboard launching me toward better things I have no idea – and yet that something new and different is taking hold of me is indisputable. Late middle age is when the young part of you and the old part stand tightly back to back, and what’s good about it and what’s bad comes from this comforting/irritating juxtaposition.
Certainly, the coming year is going to be full of changes. My son, at fourteen, is entering the crunch time of puberty. My daughter, eighteen, is beginning her freshman year in college. My father, nearing ninety, is faced with moving from the home he’s lived in for 47 years – all of which means I’m a charter member of the sandwich generation, though at times the responsibility makes it more like being pressed between the jaws of a vise. Add to
these all my emotional failings (so far yet from the serenity I expected at this age) the physical changes I see in myself (none of them changes for the better), and you have a year that promises to pose a unique set of challenges.
Taking the larger view, it’s tempting to describe late middle-age as being similar to Autumn, pleasantly mellow sometimes, surprisingly tempestuous at others, with a finished kind of burnish that wears well on the soul. Tempting – but I find something young and stubborn in me draws back from saying the obvious: that people my age are entering the autumn of their lives.
I have a better analogy. Sometimes in August a cold front sweeps through these hills, and, like a sneak preview, we get autumnal days that are brilliantly refreshing, with mornings that fill you with energy, make us feel, perhaps more passionately than we have in a long time, that all things are possible.
And that’s what I would like to think forms the proper analogy for our generation as we enter the next stage of life.
Late middle age – an early autumn moming on a late summer day.
This is W.D. Wetherell from Lyme, New Hampshire.
W.D. Wetherell is a novelist and eassayist who writes frequently on the outdoors. His new book is entitled “A Century of November.” He spoke from our studio in Norwich.