The Scariest Thing About Aging
There’s nothing more secure than the power of blissful youthfulness, the kind that happens to everyone during that magical phase in all our lives, when the road to endless possibilities is luxuriously outstretched with seductive foreverness.
Looking back, it doesn’t seem like it was two decades ago, when I arrived in New York City, fresh off the Greyhound that took a couple of days to drive in from the city of my college graduation. I can still feel the night breeze on my bruised shoulder in the summer of my emancipation from the stifling grip of the Midwest.
My parents had been emphatically against my relocation to the romanticized metropolis that resembles the beautiful chaos of Lagos, where I grew up. But you can’t dissuade the self-centered motivations of a twenty-three-year-old English major, who harbors dreams of being an actress someday.
As mid-lifers, we are now aware that “someday” sometimes never comes, and with each significant birthday that passes, adjustments have to be made to accommodate the major disappointments of unrealized goals, that run the gamut of never finding “The One” to the lack of concrete accomplishments that will outlive flesh and blood.
2020 has been the most traumatic year of my lifetime, and it’s not because the ones before didn’t contain tragic items that rocked my world. It’s really about the relatable horrors of a global pandemic and the brutal consequences of sickness and death, that leaves trembling survivors with active threats that get more profound as time flies by.
There’s the senseless loss of lives of more than a quarter of a million Americans and counting, who didn’t stand a chance against the raging machine of incompetence, stemming from a rogue administration that willfully botched the response to a deadly virus, voraciously spreading with uncontrollable fury.
And with the dreadfulness of realities, that include the displacement of households sinking in debt, from negligence of the federal government, composed of pampered, privileged career politicians, who are disconnected from the devastation of real poverty, we also have to endure the criminality of a trifling buffoon, who is determined to illegally turn the presidency into a monarchy.
The mandated wastefulness of an entire year, deferred the great expectations of what the beginning of a new decade was poised to produce for an anxiety-ridden, middle-aged Gen Xer, who is currently hanging in limbo.
Being a creative means finding imaginative ways to maintain momentum, and possibly branch out to new, ambitious territory. So far, my artistic tendencies are still ripe with whimsical hopefulness, aside from temporary setbacks of depression and panic attacks.
Thanks to the studiousness of meditations, infusion of Buddhist chants and trusted CBD tinctures, my mood swings are manageable enough to prevent debilitating disruptions.
But no matter how successful you become with disciplining your state of cool, calm and collected, you can’t avoid glaring evidence that highlights fragility of existence, with looming mortality that used to seem so distant, but is suddenly in focus with nagging foreboding.
In 2020, we lost some of our greatest icons, each of them pioneers, who helped shape the cultural landscape for generations to come.
Revered names like notable civil rights leaders John Lewis, C.T. Vivian and the unexpected passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. They were giants in their respective pathways, and blessedly lived long enough to appreciate the longterm benefits of their immense contributions over a long period of time.
Then you have the painfully short, but enviably prolific trajectories of real-life superheroes like Lakers great, Kobe Bryant and the star of the global phenomenon, Black Panther, Chadwick Boseman, undoubtedly one of the greatest actors of his generation and a true artist to the core.
Both these men, Bryant, 41 and Boseman, 43, were in the prime of their lives before their untimely deaths. Each contentedly consumed with artistry, as storytellers, and deeply connected to the pulse of their community, as inspirational figures, who were readily equipped to meet the high expectations of their fanbase.
Losing the Black Mamba and Black Panther within months of each other, and in the same year of utter devastation has been a terrifying event to witness, and even more challenging to process. It’s the brutal interruption to excellence in motion.
In the same vein, we can try to celebrate their victories, based on how each of their achievements will continue to exalt their memories.
When you put it all in perspective, the hardest part is the realization of how getting older inevitably means saying final goodbyes to loves ones, family friends, and the recognizable faces that you assumed would always be around, due to larger-than-life personas.
Dying is the non-negotiable that we unknowingly sign up for at birth, and it’s not until our first encounter with the disappearing act of someone we know, that we begin to ask questions, debating the mysteries that won’t make any sense until our departure date.
Maturity has allowed my ability to not tense up at the prospect of my impending demise, because of the peaceful resignation that encourages accepting what can’t be revised or halted. I’m not ruled by the interpretations of biblical verses, touting reassurances for born again Christians about a heavenly slumber, while sinners are condemned to hell.
Of course my temperate mindset and somewhat clinical approach to my mortality will need a reset, if in the near future, I’m informed in the doctor’s office, that my days on earth are rapidly winding down.
But even then, the heaviest burden from that dismal prognosis would be the sorrowfulness of a lacking, tangible legacy that outlives me, and accurately demonstrates who I was, and how I was fortunate enough to make very good use of the precious time I was allotted.
The same day that Chadwick Boseman’s birthday was celebrated with loving tributes elevating the King, the official date for Kobe Bryant’s induction into the Hall of Fame was also confirmed.
It then hit me that despite the sobering absence of these two legends, who managed the impossible feat of manifesting lives that were remarkably durable — their enshrined trajectories will continue to serve as proof of comforting immortality.
For regular folks like me, who didn’t attain the status that prides us to boast that we came, we saw we conquered, the prospect of leaving this world before our time is just as frightening as dying at an advanced age, after the torturous implications of our failures have eaten us alive.
They say aging is a blessing, but I honestly would rather die young, with the blessing of having spent all my days actively laying down the foundation of what will concretely serve as my noteworthy contributions to mankind.
Yet, I am aware that those who are chosen for that illustrious station in life, as trailblazers and leaders of revolutions are in actuality born for that honor, because of the way they exude prolificness by responsibly utilizing those superior qualities that simply can’t be taught or force fed.
Time is definitely not on my side, and as the years of shameless debauchery start to exact physical punishment that’s well-deserved, I can’t help but face the fact that I will most likely not live to be as old as my own parents, who luckily didn’t over-indulge in harmful substances.
The morbidity of my mortality is really centered around being an unmarried, childless and modestly accomplished writer, who hasn’t had enough career highs to competitively showcase, and wondering what kind of legacy, if any, someone in that category leaves behind.
This isn’t a cry for help or an attempt to elicit a barrage of sympathy notes assuaging my daily terror of getting older with nothing substantial to present for the decades of existence.
It’s raising the alarm about how Gen Xers like myself are now battling the symptoms of being acutely aware of how many of us are succumbing to what we always knew would be waiting once we got here. Those daunting previews don’t make this phase of adulthood any easier to absorb.
Once you’re gone — you’re gone
That’s why making it count while you’re here is the only guarantee for life after death.
So what if you worked as hard as you could but somehow failed the ultimate test, or what if you thought you did your best, but in reflection, you conclude that you could’ve done much more?