Thanks to social media, many of us are in touch with people we may not have seen for over half of our lives. We follow their carefully curated stories and wonder if their lives are anything like those they show to the world (Don’t pretend I’m the only cynic – I know you wonder too).
The only positive thing to come out of lockdown for me has been reconnecting with some of these people face to face, or screen to screen; even though we’re scattered across the globe.
This week I had a Zoom call with some friends, two of whom I hadn’t seen since we were at sixth form college together, and it got me thinking.
My first thought was: Why on earth did I lose touch with these clever, creative, articulate women? (Ok, maybe: Why haven’t you had the good grace to age or get fat was first, but that was definitely my second thought).
My next thought was: Aren’t they wise?
It seemed that everything they said was honest, considered and considerate. They made sure everyone had the opportunity to speak, asked questions about career paths and family.
I noted with pleasure that we talked about our work (we’re all in creative fields), before asking about children, which is unusual these days, since my experience is that middle aged women often become defined by their offspring and their achievements, as though our petals have fallen now that the next generation are budding with promise.
Then I wondered whether we were always like this and, whilst we met through studying art and literature, the answer is no. We were teenagers, so by definition, we were thoughtless and hedonistic. We remember more about the pubs we hung out in and boys we snogged than the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins.
‘The most precious thing in the world is youth. Too bad it is wasted on children.’ George Bernard Shaw
I found myself wishing that I had known back then what I know now, and how different the world would be if we were all born already imbued with what comes with experiencing life and all its tempestuous seasons.
How different school life would be if bullies could see their actions through the lens of a fifty-year-old; someone who knows and accepts that we are all different and that’s a cause for celebration not victimisation.
Imagine a world where young people didn’t drive so fast because they knew that actions can have dire consequences, and wanted to avoid grief – their own and that of others.
Family life would be Elysian as teenagers came home at a reasonable hour and worked hard for their exams because it made sense to plan for their future.
Kids would eat vegetables and cut down on sugar because they wanted to live a long and healthy life and, I imagine, teenage pregnancy would be a thing of the past.
‘If youth only knew and age only could.’ Robert Louis Stephenson
But it wouldn’t work, would it?
My old friends have learned to be the way they are through the breakages and bruises of a life half lived. Thirty years ago, they did their budding along with me and, my God, how we enjoyed pushing up through the soil and turning our tender petals to the light!
In the intervening years we saw some of life’s rain and lost some of the glossiness in our petals in long dark nights and fierce storms. But we survived and are stronger for it.
I also acknowledge that not all fifty-year olds have learned the lessons life has to offer. I’m sure we can all think of adults who act more like weeds, taking up too much space and suffocating the flowers.
On reflection, I wouldn’t give back my careless youth for the wisdom of age. I also wouldn’t burden my young daughters with the knowledge of mortality and grief to make them careful now. I won’t stop telling them the things I’ve learned, but expect my words to fall, like water from the petals of an opening rose.
The only solution I can come up with is that we all get to add an extra fifty healthy years, on top of our current life expectancy, without frozen shoulders, dodgy knees – and can I have my oestrogen back please?
That way we can action all of the wisdom, kindness and tolerance we’ve worked so many seasons to accumulate. That’s only fair, isn’t it?
Now who do I talk to, to make this happen? I haven’t finished blooming yet.