Monday, April 1, 2013

Zero to Sixty, Chapter 8. Who's that Old Guy in the Mirror?



I remember my father saying that he didn’t identify with the image reflected back at him from his unkind mirror. My grandparents seemed perplexed at being in their 80’s. Approaching 60, I’m beginning to understand what they were talking about.

Maybe there’s something in the way I talk to myself that reinforces my identity. Does everyone do that? I wake up in the morning and as I turn off the alarm and sit up slowly, I start to list the things I have to do that day. It sets the tone. Is there an important meeting? Do I get to go listen to an interesting new band after work? Is that leak in the bathroom still not repaired? Is there a rehearsal to run to after dinner? Am I late on a project? I find that the day normally proceeds differently than I projected — and my feelings, once I show up at work, change over the course of the day regardless of my first thoughts at 5:15 a.m.

Is life that way, too? We tell ourselves who we are, perhaps forgetting that so much has changed, and is always changing. We think we’re the same person but we’re not. Or maybe we are essentially ourselves, inside, forever.

I was looking at a photo that I uncovered recently in a neglected corner of my home office. It shows my wife’s 1991 Toyota Tercel, when it was new, parked in front of the townhouse where we lived from 1990 to 2002. Isn’t it amazing that an image captures and freezes a moment, while time marches on? That car is long gone. We don’t live in that townhouse anymore. But I can remember looking out the front window at the car. I was there—now I’m here. The memory remains.

Looking at old photos of myself gives me the same eerie sensation. Young, slim, dark-haired. The thing is, I still feel like that person, despite the many changes that have taken place to my body — my brain’s container.

The changes are hard to miss. Heavier, by as much as 35 pounds, depending on when the photo is from. Hair is mostly gray now, and thinning, especially in the crown. Beard — white. Eyes — lines under them. Skin — starting to look more like parchment; more moles. Chest hair is turning white. Muscle tone – diminishing. Back – sore more often. Prostate? Enlarged (within normal range). 

But—beyond all that, I still feel like “me.” What do the people in the store or restaurant think? They see an older guy. They don’t know that it’s really me inside. I feel like I’m misrepresenting myself. Don’t they know I’m just a young guy, starting out? I’m guessing that most of us have this disconnect.

In a funny sort of way, being able to develop my adolescent interests in music and cars into real activities in my 50’s has made me more vital that I might have been if hadn’t made decisions years ago. I’ll never be a young bass player in a band, but I can play the music of my youth now, hoping to get the feeling I might have had if I’d had the fearlessness of my middle years back when I really needed it.

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