David Murdock: How to tell when you’re happily middle-aged

David Murdock More Content Now

I’m 47 years old. By any reasonable measure, I’m middle-aged. No matter how diligently our culture tries to tell me otherwise — with its cries of “40 is the new 30!” and similar nonsense — I’m middle-aged. I’m completely OK with it.

I realized that while walking in downtown Attalla, Alabama, a couple of weeks ago and was stopped by someone who asked me a question about what Attalla used to be like. Luckily, he didn’t include the obvious end of that sentence: “in the old days.”

I would have reacted to that one in about the same way I reacted to the teenaged girl who first rang me up for a senior discount at a fast-food restaurant. Before I could bite my tongue, the words “How old do you think I am?!?!?” came rushing out rather vehemently, scaring the poor thing into calling for a manager to soothe the ruffled feathers of the cantankerous old man.

Anyway, the fellow who stopped me on the street wasn’t all that much younger than I, but the long gray beard and walking stick must have convinced him otherwise. The sad part of the whole story is that I actually sort of knew what he was asking about and gave him something of an answer. He probably thought my memory wasn’t quite what it used to be or something.

I have always looked older than I am, so none of this really bothers me. That’s why I’m OK with being middle-aged. In many ways, I “feel” younger than I have ever felt, which explains why I absentmindedly replied “37” not long ago when someone asked me how old I was. Again, they probably just thought my memory was fading when I corrected myself.

There are some tell-tale signs of middle age, though.

I have to orient myself when I wake up these days. There is no jumping out of bed and running straight into the day now. It’s not so much a chipper “Let’s see what this day has in store for me!” as much as a resigned “Let’s see what THIS day has in store for me.” By the way, coffee is a miracle that I do not think has been fully appreciated.

There are aches and pains in muscles that I did not know existed. Honestly, I had to look them up. It’s no good complaining about those aches and pains to anyone because the reply is going to be “What do you expect? You’re middle-aged.”

I am amused by things that used to outrage me, but I am outraged about what I read in the newspaper over coffee every morning.

Breakfast must be consumed in a leisurely fashion. There is no longer a rushing out the door with Pop Tart in hand. There is no more hitting the drive-thru and eating in the car like a barbarian on the drive to work. It’s more like “I don’t care what doctors say about eggs, I’m going to sit down and eat some … and lots of bacon, too.” After all, the old saying is “breakfast like a king, dinner like a prince, and supper like a pauper” and there’s something to all those old sayings.

There’s no jumping out of the car anymore once I get to work, either. I plan how I’m going to exit. Open door, turn in seat, position feet solidly on ground and exit. I still play the music really loud in the car, though, and it’s not due to loss of hearing. I just like loud music.

I start lots of sentences with “When I was your age …” but that’s because I spend my days with 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds. I also find myself saying, “Calm down” or “Breathe” at the start of lots of sentences these days. I’ve been teaching English for 18 years now, and I have yet to see a true English teaching emergency. It’s just a comma splice; it’s not the end of the world as we know it. When I was your age, we spliced with commas the old-fashioned way — by hand with an actual pen on actual paper and not on some fancy computer!

And by the way, I have some considered opinions on grammar, syntax, and rhetoric, but I’ll save those for now. I just wanted to mention it because it surprises me that I have considered opinions on those things.

I think that’s really it — middle age surprises me. It’s certainly not what I expected. It’s happiness but not contentment, and feeling young with a strong streak of experience. It’s calm and calming, a stately progression through the days, and a certain confidence that everything will be all right. It’s also buying Advil in the large bottle and knowing where to get the best price on it, but hey … I am middle-aged.

David Murdock is a correspondent for The Gadsden (Ala.) Times.