Do you feel just the same as you did when you were seventeen?
It has always puzzled me, this idea that when you are older you feel the same as you did when you were a teenager. How could that be? You have lived and worked and suffered and felt joy and loved and lost. Maybe you have had children. Maybe you have devoted your life to music or books or gardening. If you haven't been changed quite profoundly by the experience of life how can you have learnt anything?
I don't mean that I don't get what people mean when they say this. I do understand that there is something about the essence of yourself which remains. I like people but I like to observe. I don't want to be the focus of all eyes or the star of the show but I might be the director. I have strong opinions but I might not always voice them. I like people who get on with things. I have very little sympathy for drama queens. I believe in taking responsibility for oneself. I believe in the overwhelming value of kindness. All of those things were true when I was seventeen and they are true now.
And yet if you look at what I do now, in my late sixties, you will find all sort of things which I have come to love doing over time and which my seventeen year old self would have run a mile from.
I know a bit about birds and a bit more about plants. Even twenty years ago I could not have distinguished a sparrow from a chaffinch, although I might have managed a robin or a blackbird. I would not have been able to tell you what kind of tree you were looking at if it was not in leaf, although I could have identified many trees from their foliage. I could have told you that a flower was a rose but not what kind of rose. Somehow in this last third of my life I have acquired a whole raft of knowledge about the natural world. Why is that? and how has it happened? It is not as though I have sat down to learn things in any conscious way and I am overwhelmingly aware of how much I don't know, but somehow I have learnt to identify birds, to tell trees from their bark, to recognise plants from leaves as well as flowers. The timing of this coincides with my children growing up and eventually leaving home. When they were younger I had no time to do anything other than keep my head above water. Gradually as the water receded there was space, even while I was still working, to really look at the natural world. I think this might be quite common, perhaps particularly for women? It is as if the habit of nurturing small people morphs into a nurturing of other things and the habit of noticing simply shifts the focus of its attention. Yet maybe it is nothing to do with having children but simply a product of getting older. It is to do with seeing things, caring about things. I don't think I had the capacity to focus on things outside of myself in this way when I was seventeen.
There are many other things that I do now which I never did when I was younger. I knit and crochet. I run and do yoga. I join things, sometimes with some small residual reluctance, but I do. I have never regarded myself as a "clubbable" person and while that remains broadly true I have discovered considerable pleasure in my Welsh class, my book group, my choir. My younger self would have been too busy whizzing around having new experiences to appreciate the quieter pleasures of being part of a community.
What about you? What do you do at this stage of your life that you would not have done when you were younger? And to what extent do you feel the same, or different?