“My heart leaps up when I behold / A rainbow in the sky… / So be it when I shall grow old / Or let me die!”
– William Wordsworth
All this boo-hoo business of “quarter-life” and “mid-life” crises has never sat right with me. Mostly, it fails to recognize the “nickel-and dime-life” crises and all manner of perennial “penny-life” crises. And doesn’t it seem to imply that death (as a centenarian, no less) is the ultimate crisis? If all other crises are a matter of questioning self-esteem, I’d hate to think our end is but bitter bemusement, wondering if it was worth a buck.
Maybe what all these calamitous periods of self-pity show us is that growing old is not nearly so hard as growing up. Besides, what is all the fuss over getting older? Isn’t it, like, the point? Age is proof of our worthiness of survival, so that we may one day lay down our toils and surround ourselves with the spoils of the sum of our years! Could that really be so bad? It isn’t. I know. I’ve been to the other side.
Quarter-lifer though I may be, in my journey through time and space I’ve had the unique opportunity to discover a great many things about the world of the sick and elderly—and the secrets of unbridled pleasure they horde for themselves! The concept of Retirement aside, the little things are worth coveting, too. Prune juice, apple sauce and intravenous narcotics are all examples of ingestible bliss, the reputations of which have been highly conspired against.
When hospital bed-bound during my stay in Cancer Land, my favorite part of the day was drinking my 5am prune juice (see, apple sauce—while awesome—is not terribly substantive, and heavy narcotics—when prescribed, also awesome—have a way of halting certain, um, cycles). I’d press the cold little can on my forehead to ease the fevered burn, before the nurse would pop the top and serve it to me over crushed ice. They did all but lift the straw to my lips (though I hear they’ll do that too, if you’re especially old).
As I sipped, they’d push a few milligrams of opiates directly into the chamber above my heart’s right atrium, and unnatural colors would streak the sky otherwise hued like drowned river stone. Everyone would smile and speak slowly, and I would receive a kind pat on the knee if I said something remotely coherent. This, with round after round of pudding alongside carefully wrapped PB&Js, while I stared out the window watching thin clouds fall like ropes into the valley and rainbows climb out from it. Possessions lost their possessiveness. Responsibility extended only so far as to personal (and I mean, personal) business. If I did not comb my hair, no one cared. If I walked down the hallway, people cheered. Being “old” was awesome.
Like all old age, it did not and could not last. I went on to live through leukemia, and my Benjamin Button-ish stint came to an end. But I found this kind of time traveling taunts and exhausts more than chemo, because bigger than the challenge of returning to my real life, is returning to my real-age. Where’s my 5am prune juice and dose of dilaudid? Who will powder my back and change my socks? What do you mean, I have to put the peanut butter and jelly on myself?
This week, I celebrated completing another ellipses around the sun. Yeah, I know the American Cancer Society’s motto is “Official Sponsor of Birthdays,” but even having traversed to the end of the spectrum and back—and knowing the pruney, tripped-out bliss that awaits us in our twilight years—I’ve found myself not much caring. I dare say I even found myself in a bit of a funk… Could it be? The quarter-life crisis I didn’t think I believed in? Yes! There it was! Laughing at me in the mirror, and spitting at me from my pocketbook…
Then my mom, in all her infinite (and cute) wisdom, did something to change my mind and my mood. She put just one candle on my cake, symbolizing a first re-birthday since my recovery. As I blew out the flame, I realized these timetabled life-crises are in fact as irrelevant as I’d thought, because crises come and crises go, no matter how old or up we grow. But in the end, bitter or no, it is totally worth it. Even if just for the drugs and prune juice.