I remember the first time I went to a new doctor’s office, and the doctor who came in to treat me looked as though he had graduated from high school last week. I actually thought, “Who let this teenager in here? And where’s my doctor?” before it sunk in that the young man standing in front of me was a real doctor. But I couldn’t get past the fact that he was obviously at least a decade younger than I was at the time. It just didn’t seem right. Doctors had always been at least my age, and most of them much older.
That was many years ago, and since then it’s only gotten worse. Now I deal with all sorts of professionals who are younger than me, and who rarely look old enough to be doing their job: dentists, repairmen, pharmacists, salespeople, you name it. The other day I saw a neighbor out watering his lawn, and thought, “Why is that kid messing with my neighbor’s sprinkler?” Then I took a closer look and realized that wasn’t some kid, that was my neighbor, who is a grown man with a wife, a baby, and a full-time job. But he looked like a teenager to me.
I know, especially after reading so many other blogs about middle age that are written by people in their early forties, that I am, at age 57, on the “upper end” of middle age. Which means that the kids I used to babysit are now grown up and have kids of their own…and some of those kids are also grown up. Ditto for most of my nieces and nephews. (Thank you, Chris, for at least still being in college! Please do me a favor, and stay there a few more years, and never mind the tuition.)
The problem is that I still feel young. Not teenage or twenty-something young, but definitely younger than I actually am. As long as I can avoid a magnifying mirror (fading eyesight is both a curse and a blessing), I can cling to a mental self image of myself as I used to be. So it still isn’t pleasant to have to be jolted back to reality by walking into a doctor’s office, as I did last Monday, and seeing someone who looks as if she can’t be over twenty introducing herself as my doctor. Because then I have to admit that she probably isn’t a genius whom managed to get her medical degree at age eighteen, she is simply what a young doctor looks like these days. And I haven’t looked like that for years.
I think being surprised that we have become old is a universal life experience. Maybe our own aging is like the concept of our own mortality; something that we just naturally avoid thinking about. I remember when I was young and my then middle-aged parents told me that they still felt young on the inside. At the time, I wondered how they could be so out of touch with their reality. But now that I’m middle age, I have discovered exactly what they were talking about. It’s just like the sign a co-worker used to have on her office wall that said, “Inside every old person, there’s young person wondering what the hell happened.” And that’s the truth.