Personal Essays · The Bookless Club

The best thing about being my age

Last weekend I read a newspaper story about how one woman, growing dissatisfied with her book club for its lack of meaningful conversation, gave it up and formed, instead, a bookless club: quite simply, a round-table dinner discussion, with intelligent and interesting people, answering pre-formed questions designed to provoke thought, spark dialogue, encourage the sharing of ideas, and generally enrich the lives of all involved.

This woman, fired up with the success of  her bookless club’s first meeting, generously shared their next list of  questions with readers.

When did you really and truly feel like a grown-up for the first time?

What was the nicest thing a stranger ever did for you?

Do you still, sometimes, drink milk from the carton?

What’s the best thing about being the age you are right now?

I was instantly intrigued but lacked the time to form any immediate answers. It’s been a mad few weeks. I simultaneously finished an intense, year-long diploma program, packed up my belongings to move to another province, and said goodbye to family, friends, and the city I’ve called home for twenty years. But all the while, in the back of my mind, I’ve been turning these questions over and over against each other, like Chinese soothing stones, achieving the same calming effect on my often-shattered nerves.

And now, with nothing to do but simply sit back and fly, I can finally answer them.

I’ll start with the last one.

What’s the best thing about being the age you are right now?

I finished re-reading The Good Earth recently, and there’s a great line about one of the characters who managed to achieve a graceful middle-age: “Youth and age were equally far from her.” It never struck me with the same force as it did now.

In this era of extended longevity, it seems to me that age is become more and more a relative concept. My recently widowed mother is told by everyone, “But you are still young!” She’s in her mid-fifties. So, both comparatively and chronologically, I am younger still. And yet I am no longer a spring chicken. Babies I diapered, my younger siblings and cousins, are now acquiring drivers licenses, getting married, having their own children. This, more than anything else, makes me feel my age.

So that line of Pearl S. Buck’s puts things neatly into perspective. No longer young, but certainly not old. Old enough to have learned a few things about life, but still young enough to realize that there are so many things I have yet to know. Old enough to have put down deep roots in a place I love, but young enough to start over in a new city and be eager to explore the entire world.

Maybe the best thing about being this age—about being any age—is the ability to combine the very best of whatever ages we’ve been so far.

I like to think that I have a thirty-something brain and a seventeen-year-old heart.

The brain warns me about any potentially risky decisions.

And the heart tells me which risks I should take.

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