Whenever I look in a mirror, a graying man looks back at me. He surprises me every time. I suppose it's only natural for eternal in us to rebel against our getting old.
Is the eternal in me my real soul, made by God in His Image? Or is it just the puer aeternus, the eternal child - a mere psychological holdover, the little boy in me who never grew up? Perhaps only death can part them, as it does our marriages.
Maybe my rebellion against my aging appearance is about all the things I have left undone or untried - most of which I now will never do, because I no longer can. And yet, I can still get on a bicycle and leave an out-of-shape twenty-something in the dust. Or am I just crying, in Monty Python fashion, "Not dead yet!"
Or maybe it's about the things I've left unthought. If so, and if I survive with my mind intact, aging may be a blessing. I hope to do my own research again someday, funded by my pension.
How strange life is, though. At times, I feel so connected to the boy I once was, and yet my memories of childhood are discontinuous. The most meaningful moments are all there, but the rest are lost. When I was a boy, frustrated by adult incomprehension, I swore I would never forget what it was like to be a child. But adolescence intervened, rearranged my brain, and made other things so urgent. Getting a girl, learning about love, getting an education, getting a job, growing up. As has everyone else, I have forgotten what childhood was like, and I forgot it long ago. I retain only a loose web of intensely felt fragments, a disconnected narrative.
If we are no more than our memories, then we are not very much. But if we lose our memories, we are not nothing. "Show me the face you had before your parents were born," goes the Zen koan. Perhaps we show that face when we have no memories.
The graying man in the mirror shows me that much time has passed, that youth's dreams of becoming something have become the middle-aged fantasies of a Walter Mitty. And the time remaining may be short.
But, hey thanks, glad to be here. Glad for every gray hair. I've earned each one so far, and none has come cheap. Glad to wonder, glad to experience. Grateful to God to have lived longer than the previous two generations of men on my father's side of the family. Hoping to turn into a really old fart on a bicycle over decades to come, but willing to take what I get, because none of us has the wisdom to do otherwise.