Outer Age, Inner Age

I recently turned 56. Funny, I don't feel old. But I cannot deny that my life is more than half over.

Peers have died. Others suffer the "slings and arrows..." (Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1, the famous soliloquy) of disease or misfortune. These things remind me of my mortality.

I've been lucky -- good health, vigor, plenty of work, noble projects, family, travel, joys, love. Yet the "smiling mortician" [Ferlinghetti] inevitably pops up.

For example, I am a nursing student and my classmates are women half my age. Nobody has less reverence for bodily functions and organs than nurses who see them at their worst (and best). And when they socialize, nobody's humor is more irreverent. In other words, filthy. Yet I have learned that such humor is off-limits to me. I can listen and chuckle but I can't tell off-color jokes lest I be branded a dirty old man. That's how they would see me. Instead, if I'm careful, they see me merely as an old man.

I guess it's not just the nurses but all of society that sees me that way. It's a challenge because of course I do not see myself that way. What age am I inside? Teenage boy, perhaps, still figuring things out, or a college-ager, on the cusp of making a place in the world.

Actually, I feel myself to be neither of those. I have my place in the world and it's a good one, for which I've worked hard and of which I'm proud. Today I feel that I'm at the peak of my powers and the future is bright.

Is it possible that my inner age matches my outer one? Is that a measure of something that matters?

Is there such a thing as inner age? How would we identify it? Is there a reverse correlation between age mismatch (the difference between outer and inner ages) and happiness, level of function, or some other psychological measure? How do you see yourself, inner- and outer-age-wise?

-- Dan Keller, November, 2010