I recently celebrated another birthday, and it gave me a chance to reflect on the way that we tend to assign certain meaning to milestone birthdays, or to have internalized judgments about who we should be, or what we should be doing, at a certain age or stage in life.
Age is just a number. And yes, 50 is different from 20. But is one better than the other? Not really. There are pleasures to be enjoyed at each stage in life.
We often fall victim to our preconceptions about what a certain number means, since there’s really no hard and fast way of determining of what it means to be a particular age. I’ve known people in their seventies and eighties who were vibrant and active, while I’ve known people much younger who were completely mired in the idea that “it’s all downhill from here…”
It’s only downhill if you think it is.
And since you’re the one writing the story, you can create the landscape any way you like.
All the world’s a stage,/ And all the men and women merely players:/ They have their exits and their entrances;/ And one man in his time plays many parts. – Shakespeare
There’s a belief common in spiritual practice that all the people who play important roles in our lives, from our parents, to our friends, to those who hurt us the most, signed up for their roles to teach us something that we came here to learn. And that those who love us the most are the ones who hurt us the most, because in being hurt we have the biggest opportunities to learn and grow.
And, when we exit, we will meet all of them again as their authentic selves, not in the role they played on the stage of our lives.
As a dear friend reminded me recently, we are all acting out plays that were written a long time ago. He was referring to our behavior patterns and thought patterns, which can become ingrained at an early age.
Except we forget that it’s a play. We get invested. We think it’s real. This is like believing the funhouse mirror shows us the real picture.
If our lives are pure fiction, what stories are we telling and re-telling? More to the point, what stories are we buying? And what stories are we re-living?
The challenge is to see the play for what it is. To recognize the players in our own mythology. The heroes. And the villains.
And the bigger challenge? To re-write the story and change the ending. To become the heroes of our own lives. To rescue ourselves instead of looking for someone else to do the heavy lifting.
We shall not cease from exploration/and the end of all our exploring/ will be to arrive where we started/and know the place for the first time. – T.S. Eliot