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THIS SHOULDN'T BE 40

Much has been said about turning 40. Few milestones are as talked about as this one, if indeed it is a milestone. "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "This Is 40" are recent films. I'm sure there are books, but I'm not in the mood for a Wikipedia search. And yet one wonders, why is the big four oh even talked about? First off, decades are pretty arbitrary. If we made a decade 50 years long instead of 10, then most of us wouldn't even be in our teens. 

And really there is no major milestone worth mentioning between the ages of 21 and 65. Like 13, when you are officially a teenager, and 18 when you can vote (a privilege I have yet to exercise), 21 at least allows one to poison oneself with alcohol; and at 65 you can collect social security. Which I am not all that jazzed about, as the few years I have actually earned any money entitle me to a very insubstantial sum. 

Forty, however, brings with it no such reward. Indeed turning twice twenty is quite the opposite. It is recommended that men start having prostate examinations when they are this age, and who likes a stranger sticking two fingers up the poop shoot. Exit only, please. And many women opt to commence breast cancer screening at 4 decades young. And while 50 may be worse than 40, since the former marks the beginning of regular colonoscopies for both sexes, and menopause for women, it is at the still tender age of four times ten that life's infirmities begin to rear their head. For it is then that you begin "feeling your age." I did, to some degree. I quit drinking regularly when I turned 40 simply because I could no longer recover as quickly from last night's bender. My head remained cloudy and my limbs heavy well into the next day, and coffee proved an inefficient antidote. Was it overnight? No, but entering a new decade felt as it does when you leave one room and enter another. The carpet and wallpaper may be the same, but you are definitely in a different room of life's many-roomed mansion. 

But really, many of life's little peskies paid me visits long before I entered my 5th decade on this blessed planet. My back first went out when I was 13, and almost every year since. My knees started hurting at 21. And thankfully stopped hurting a couple years later. My eyes sometimes got puffy in my 20s, which was around when I started noticing the early signs of crow's feet. My gums started receding in my 30s. But nothing really happened after 40 or since that merits the stinking reputation associated with this godforsaken age. Sure, I had a root canal at 41, but that was the dentist's mistake. And I broke my leg falling off my bike at the same age, but accidents happen throughout life. No, I'm inclined to believe that 40 is no more sinister than 39. Or for that matter 30, or 29.

In Tom Robbins' novel "Jitterbug Perfume," King Alobar's life is threatened with the appearance of his first gray hair. The kings in Alobar's fictitious realm are poisoned the minute they start showing signs of age. The notion being that growing enfeebled will somehow diminish their ability to effectively rule. Alobar was 37 when his hair changed color. I noticed my first gray hair (in my beard) when I turned 40, but I hadn't worn a beard for three years, so maybe Alobar and I, who am no king, have in common more than meets the eye. But not less, since both of us at least have said hair. And like Alobar, I pluck these pigment-less strands (which have by now also migrated to my chest and head) whenever they appear. Hey, at least my vision is keen enough to see them!

But it is somewhat depressing watching the body age. You feel as though the best times are behind you, and physically speaking, they are. For men, testosterone peaks in the late teens. Runners are fastest in their early 30s, and the athletes of most major sports have retired long before the sun sets on this zesty decade. To think that the aches and pains that sometimes nag me, and the occasional injuries, will only increase in frequency and severity with time, despite whatever mind I pay to eating nutritious foods and exercising regularly. You can slow the process of senescence, but it will never ever halt. I remember in my teens how fun it was to watch myself grow in height almost by the day. To chart the progress of my pubic hair (I had time on my hands, and a magnifying glass), and to shave that very first time. My voice deepened, hair thickened, and my sex drive increased. Yes their were pimples and that awkward stage which for me was thankfully brief, but for the most part age-related changes in the youth's physiognomy seem life-promoting, somehow expansive. But shrunken and shriveled like your average old-timer anything but. And yet it's a course we're all hobbling along on.

I can understand why the notion that "I am not the body" is so prevalent in Eastern mysticism. Why identify with your flesh and blood capsule when it is constantly changing, and not for the better, subject as it is to the ravages of time? Individuality is only a concept. Who you take yourself to be is not unlike a river. A river never has the same water running in it, nor the same boundaries. Even its name changes with time and over national borders depending on the language spoken. But we consider that river to be one entity all along its course and throughout history, whether high tide or low. The Mississippi is still the Mississippi even in Missouri. But the Mississippi River is an illusion. There is water, and we choose to label it a river. That is all. Have your read Hesse too? If not, please do!

This is like the idea of the individual self. I don't relate to the child I was, cocksure and headstrong, at say the age of 13. Indeed who I am now could hardly be more different. And yet I label that early teen me, just like I do the me I see reflected in the mirror today, with the receded gums and crow's feet. Strange. I prefer the term "I." Because we all call ourselves I, don't we. United in I, we stand (or hunch). Even so, not identifying with the body, the aim of the metaphysician, is really just mental jumping jacks. Whether I say I am physical or spiritual, I still am trapped for a time, albeit brief, in this flesh and blood capsule and must feel what it likes to get old. But I console myself that being in body is spirit's chance to play at mortality, a concept which like all concepts is foreign to it. The spirit that is beyond space and time. Maybe it's a sign of wisdom, wisdom that is won with age, wisdom that I didn't have when I was half this old and twice as headstrong. But I feel curiously content, despite my aches and pains. So I enjoy the signs of age for what they are: merely a part of the game we all get to play. And I know that all games must end. And also, that always and forever the I that is pure consciousness remains the same, which is to say PERFECT.

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