‘I’m not 50. Yet. But I’m having an existential crisis’

While I like a free lunch as much as the next weary hack, the thought of reaching the qualifying age for the Old People’s Bus was profoundly depressing

 

I’ve been flirting with a full-blown existential crisis of late and a leaflet advertising a lovely community bus and meal service for older folk in my little urban village is to blame.

On every level, the wheels-to-meals service which brings local people to a community centre for a hot dinner in the middle of the day is brilliant. I didn’t need the flier, one that joined a mountain of others climbing the walls in my hall since I foolishly painted over the “No Junk Mail” sign on my letterbox, to tell me that.

I’ve been following the gentle progress of the bus for a long time and every time I see it, filled with my older neighbours smiling and scowling in equal measure as they head off to collect their pensions or to play bingo or to do Zumba classes or to visit the nearby community centre for their dinner, it makes me feel better about the world around me.

It’s not, mind you, the first time I’ve struggled with aging. Truth be told, I’ve been struggling with it for almost my entire adulthood

So, initially only I glanced at the flier. But a fleeting look was enough for my eye to catch something which catapulted me into a pit near despair. I realised that to qualify for the dinner service I would have to be a certain age. And that age was 50.

To be clear, I’m not 50. But I’m so very close to it as to make no difference and although reaching half a century is – on balance – better than the alternative, it is still not something I’ve been planning to celebrate wildly. And while I like a free lunch as much as the next weary hack, the thought of reaching the qualifying age for the Old People’s Bus was profoundly depressing.

Back then, I thought 25 was old. Now I regard the handful of 25-year-olds we’ve brought into the Irish Times newsroom to inject a bit millennial enthusiasm into the place – as children

It’s not, mind you, the first time I’ve struggled with aging. Truth be told, I’ve been struggling with it for almost my entire adulthood. When I was 25, I abandoned an unpromising career as an English teacher in a cold and damp part of mountainy Spain and went home to cold and damp Galway to do a postgraduate journalism course instead.

Because I was over 24, I qualified for a mature-student grant. This should have been a cause for celebration as my advanced years meant that not only were hefty university fees waived, but I was also given a monthly stipend by my local authority to buy booze (at least I think that’s what it was for). But rather than celebrate or boast about my good fortune, I was mortified because everyone else in my class was 21 and made me feel like an auld fella.

Age is always relative

If I’ve learned nothing in the intervening years – and that is entirely possible – I’ve learned that age is always relative. Back then, I thought 25 was old. Now I regard the handful of 25-year-olds we’ve brought into the Irish Times newsroom to inject a bit (but not too much, obviously) millennial enthusiasm into the place – as children.

They weren’t even born when Tony Blair invented socialism and the Spice Girls invented feminism and while they might know who put the ball in the English net, they can’t know what it meant to old people like me.

Not long ago, I wrote a news story which offered a glimpse into how different ages view life and – unlike many stories I write – it was full of wisdom. Other people’s wisdom.

It made it clear that – generally speaking – people believe the happiest time of their life is a time that isn’t now. Those in their 30s and 40s with young children told researchers their late teens and 20s, when they were young and unattached and happy to sleep all day and queue all night for Coppers (or the Castle, or Lillie’s or Sir Henry’s or wherever) was the best time of their life. People over 60 – by contrast – believed the best time of their lives was in their 30s and 40s when mid-winter gloom was always lifted by sleigh bells and special deliveries from the North Pole and their children still thought they were all-knowing and still stared deep into their souls with the purest and most uncomplicated love.

This helped me overcome my existential crisis before it took hold because that’s where I am right now. I still get to feel the small hand of an 11-year-old reaching for mine as we walk a busy street or the slightly smaller hands of a nine-year-old as she climbs up my increasingly decrepit frame to sit on my shoulders or the much smaller hands of an 7½-month-old as she delightedly smears first-taste foods that are not to her taste into my face. These things make me happy beyond measure and certainly, much happier than I was when I had all those years on my side.

This realisation still didn’t stop me calling into a tattoo parlour on a whim. Because when my life no longer has room for such spontaneous foolishness, I may as well get on the bus.

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