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  • Writer's pictureEric Knabel

Thoughts From Six Feet Away: Stuck in the Middle With You

I’m at a difficult place in life right now.

Have you ever noticed that the “middle” is the worst place to be? We bemoan the difficulties posed by the “middle child,” and when there’s drama happening among friends, the last place you want to be is "in the middle of it.” When you’re lost, you’re in the “middle of nowhere.” Everyone agrees that the biggest problem with corporate America is “middle management.” And speaking of life in America, the portion of the population that is taxed the heaviest is the “middle class.” Cut someone off in traffic, and you’re likely to get the “middle finger.” The hardest part of parenting is the toddler years, where you’re likely to encounter your share of “middle ear infections.” If you’re “going through something,” you’re neither at the beginning nor the end, you’re in the middle. Being “stuck between a rock and a hard place” places you squarely in the middle. If you’re an average-sized person, good luck finding the T-shirt you like in a medium. The restaurant industry has even capitalized on the average person’s indecision by providing a drink that’s not too small and not too large, effectively called, you guessed it, the “medium” size.

Hell, even Sauron, the wickedest being in literature, set his sights on the conquest of Middle Earth.

I bring all these examples to the forefront to say that I’m currently dealing with the most difficult of “middles” – middle age. It’s been an insidious, nagging thought at the back of my mind for some time now, but I spoke it into public consciousness yesterday. I was at an expo for toys and comics with a coworker, and they mentioned that the kids of another coworker really liked this thing “Once Upon a Platypus.” I had to admit I had no idea what that was, then thought about the multitude of things the kids are listening to, watching, or doing with their time, and before I could stop myself, I blurted out, “I’m not sure when I stopped being hip to everything that’s out there.” Then I regretted using the word “hip” in a sentence. It may have been out of style when I was a kid.

I’ve always considered myself young at heart, humming Taylor Swift’s “22” as the motto for my life. Maybe I should be singing “When I’m 64,” instead.

It’s already started. The things I used to mock old people about are suddenly starting to make sense. Everybody laughs at the senior citizens having dinner at 4:30, but I can guarantee none of those people have ever had to go to sleep with indigestion. I know I’m in trouble if I eat dinner after 8pm anymore, because it means a rough night ahead. And speaking of sleep, I used to revel in sleeping in on the weekends, not waking up until the crack of noon. I chuckled at my elders awakening at 6am, vowing that in no universe would I ever get up that early. When I made that promise, I never dreamed that one day it would hurt to sleep. I’m now realizing that they’re up at 6am because it gets more painful the longer you remain in one place. Given my heavy reliance on screen time at work, my eyes start going out of focus by the end of the day, requiring me to wear glasses so that my eye is not twitching by day’s end. Injuries are starting to mount, and recovering takes longer and longer. As of this writing, I’m at the tail end of recovering from an injury that has taken me nearly three months, and in another three months, I’m supposed to do a half marathon. I’m not sure how my semi-decrepit body is going to comply with that particular “spirit-is-willing-but-flesh-is-weak” idea.

Perhaps my biggest challenge comes with my hearing. I’m already enjoying a constant ringing in my ears, thanks to the loud music my mother warned me about. (I regret nothing). I’m now rendered functionally deaf in any crowded room, and I find myself leaning in just to hear someone conversing with me. My wife and her low voice are struggling to communicate with me at times, and I’m frequently accused of not listening. It’s hard to listen when you’re having a difficult time processing. When she told me I should do something about it, I replied that I didn’t have five thousand dollars to put toward hearing aids. Part of me is stubborn and prideful, not ready to show the world that particular infirmity. The other part of me doesn’t want to spend that kind of money, which is also something I used to ridicule older people about. How long before I’m making tragic fashion choices and driving 30 mph below the speed limit on the highway?

Satchel Paige once asked how old you’d be if you didn’t know how old you are. I still view myself as a guy in his 20s, but I have to remind myself that during that time, Friends was on network television, Leonardo DiCaprio was old enough to date himself, and Bill Cosby was the ultimate father figure. If those facts don’t alert me to my situation, I heard the other day that the debut of MTV is now closer to the Pearl Harbor bombing than it is to today.

Oh sure, people try to be nice and tell me I don’t look my age, and I appreciate that. But every time I scoff at what my younger coworkers are listening to, or talk about the good old days, or have to explain to my kids what an answering machine was (which requires explaining what a cassette tape was), I see my future in front of me clearly.

It can be tough to be young at heart when you don’t feel young, and you don’t look young. I’m doing my best; it could always be worse, I suppose. When my patients tell me getting old sucks, I remind them that it beats the alternative. Our goal should always be to be on the right side of the daisies. Maybe I should listen to my own advice, but chances are I can’t hear it anyway.

Be excellent to each other, and…

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