I’m 68 years old. But what does that mean? It’s just a number, right? There must be a better way of measuring life. Sometimes when I’m teaching a writing class in a school, I’ll have the students write about what would be included on a test you needed to pass to be considered an adult. Maybe if you can make an omelet, pay your bills on time, and return a borrowed car with a full gas tank, you’re an adult. Otherwise, it’s the kid’s table for you in perpetuity.
Other people say, “You’re only as old as you feel.” I hope that isn’t true because...damn.
I think what matters isn’t the number of years you’ve lived, but what you’ve done - or can’t do anymore.
For example, I’ve reached maximum sheetrock.
In case you don’t know, sheetrock are 4 x 8 sheets of gypsum and paper used as the quickest and cheapest way to turn a wall from ugly to respectable. Some people use 4 x 12 sheets, but just crazy people.
The nice thing about the 4 x 8 size is that it’s not impossible to handle by yourself, it’s just almost impossible. Since I do about 98% of my work alone, that’s quite a bit of almost impossible.
I’ve reached the sheetrock phase in my shack construction. As I was carrying in the first six sheets, I thought to myself, “I’m sick of this.”
That was a little bit of an epiphany, because over the years I’ve carried a lot of sheetrock. A few decades ago, I did the whole upstairs in our house, carrying two sheets at a time up a narrow staircase. Now I carry one at a time, and I prefer to go no further than about eight feet across level ground.
Not a problem. I’ve never had a problem moving on from something I no longer want to do. Except this isn’t a 6-sheet job, it’s a 12-sheet job. I’ll plug along until I get done, but if the sheetrock fairies showed up and finished, I wouldn’t object.
Something a lot of people don’t understand is that simply being tired of something doesn’t mean you get to quit doing it. I mean, I’m pretty sure I hit maximum baling when I was about 21. Hay baling for neighbors funded my social life through my teen years, and my wife and I paid for our first car in one month by baling flax straw after I got home from my day job. By the time we wrapped up that project, I felt like I’d spent enough time staring at the back of a hay baler. It didn’t matter how I felt, though. We needed straw for the hogs, then our kids got horses...I was in my forties before I transitioned out of the whole baling thing. When the John Deere dealer in Milbank drove down the road with our old baler, I didn’t shed a single tear.
There are other milestones that could be age related. I might be done driving cars in countries where I don’t know the language. It’s not the actual driving – no matter which side of the car the steering wheel is on, driving is pretty much the same. Rather, it’s the stress of toll booths and gas stations when I’m getting waves of instructions, none of which I understand. I find it a pity I’m losing my tolerance for looking stupid right about the time society is starting to cut me a little slack because I look like a doddering old guy.
I hit peak meetings a while ago. I use my computer to take notes in every county meeting I attend – so far this year I’m at 7,774 words. That’s a lot of budget reports. Oh, well, the clock is ticking on meetings. Two more years as a county commissioner and I’m done. I’m going to drive hard through the finish line but then on my last day skip out of the boardroom.
So, I’ve been working on this column for two days. And now I've decided the previous six hundred words are wrong. Age has nothing to do with years, or what you’ve done, or what you don’t want to do anymore.
Instead, it should be all about those things you have yet to do, with points added for how deeply you want to do them.
With a little luck, that list keeps growing longer, right up until the day you die.
Copyright 2022 Brent Olson
"Old" - loved this one ! That comment " only as old as you feel " does that refer to your mind or your body? I get different readings there. I'm a bit older than you, but have been through the construction, baling ( there are so many of our favorite horses buried on our farm ), meetings- it was all great. And I agree with your idea that I hope to have a "to do (maybe) list" right up to the end. Keep up the essays- I love them. We've followed many of the same paths. Only I don't expect any sympathy from you for our -7 degrees temperatures today because yours are probably way worse. Merry Christmas !
The old time hay balers were an instrument of torture! Piling bales on the rack beyond human capabilities have caused untold aches and pains later in life. I wonder how many folks had training in proper lifting procedures? Wasn’t a popular topic in Douglas County, MN, so my guess would be zero. Anyway, it is part of years bygone. Enough gloom!
Merry Christmas to everyone and hopefully we can actually listen to each other in 2023! It’s up to us!!