I’m cruising on the gloatboat. But beware: there’s a very ugly undercurrent.
Dear Reader: if you know my work, you know I like to take doglegs. Fair warning, one is ahead. Keep the rudder at the ready.
There are few things that feel better (okay, other than orgasms and skydiving and horse riding) than finding out you’re right.
Not only that but that the veracity of your hunch turned out to be valid through research by scientists.
Which, of course, for those who choose to continue to disagree with me on this particular piece, will utterly disavow, because, well, we only quote science which backs us up. Right?
But I digress.
This is a love letter to my fellow grey hairs.
While the following does not of course apply to all of us, it is generally true. Given our longer life spans, and the simple fact that it takes a lifetime of stumbling to sort our shit out, please see:
In case you missed it the first two times: SIXTY.
That’s the age where we have found our purpose, and meaning in life. Or thereabouts.
From the article:
The good news is that the answers do come, just later in life, according to this research. By ages 40 and 50, people tend to have established careers and relationships, Aftab says. As a result, “the active pursuit for meaning decreases and the perception that their life is meaningful increases,” he says.
Then comes 60, the crucial age. At this stage of life, the search tapers off, and the presence of meaning peaked. This was correlated with both improved mental health and improved physical health in the older adults.
Our mental health suffers when we struggle to find meaning. Any daily perusal of Medium articles is testament to that. Conversely, if you read authors like Beth Bruno or Rosennab or others who are at or past sixty, what they write reads like a life primer. There is a whole other level of comfort, competence, capability and ease with which they navigate the shit storms that toss us all, some more than others.
Crow’s Feet writers, and I am one of them, have a great deal to say about resilience, and what it takes to move through the worst life has to offer. They also have found great relief in releasing the compulsion to look young, perfect and pristine. That ship sailed. And with it, the typical angst and worry we carry in the cargo hold. (Of course, it now shows up in our butts, but again, I digress.)
Not for all of us. But for those who have paid the price to gain some modicum of wisdom, which is how to apply life knowledge, not just copy and paste a listicle of another writer’s best advice without having lived it one’s self. They write from experience, not guesswork.
Of course, for some, meaning and purpose present themselves early on. The question becomes, what happens when those same people reach their later stages, and what sustained them to date no longer has the same meaning?
The study indicates, and this makes perfect sense, that once we hit the beginning of our final third set of decades, should we be given those or more, we also get to redefine and refocus what our purpose might be. That is precisely why retirement is so often a death sentence, and those who don’t find meaning in their later years can suffer terribly.
By sixty or so, we have a wholly different skill set on how to find that purpose. We’ve spent a lotta decades learning how.
Health is a powerful undercurrent in all this. People who have purpose often also understand that purpose is useless if our bodies can’t support that work. So finding ways to take care of ourselves establishes the underpinnings to purpose once we enter what I consider the Time of Mastery.
You and I see considerable proof every day that said Mastery at sixty is hardly guaranteed. Age in and of itself, as I am fond of pointing out, only conveys age. Nothing else. What we do with our years, and how hard you and I are willing to the real work of establishing meaning and purpose in our lives determines whether or not we find our way to and past sixty with anything approaching emotional maturity.
That dark undercurrent. Dragons lie beneath.
The study above didn’t take into account the impacts of addiction, which have the unfortunate tendency to stunt our growth:
From the article:
One of the problems associated with early alcohol abuse is alcoholism in adulthood. Additionally, the negative outcomes associated with adolescent alcoholism are not limited to problems with alcohol; early drinkers are also more likely to report physical health problems, educational and occupational difficulties, and relationship problems.
They found that substance abuse, poor health… multiple sexual partners… and financial problems were consistent among the individuals who started abusing drugs or alcohol early in life.
The Indiana University study illustrates the clear difference between emotional and physical age. While physical age is predictable, emotional age is the polar opposite. When teens begin to abuse drugs or alcohol, they can suffer from a case of arrested development.
You and I see this everywhere. In politics, priests, parishes, parishioners, PR people, I could go on. People who have grey hair but severely addled grey matter which is still functioning in adolescent angst. We are a nation of addicts, with substance abuse being one of the prime reasons that when some folks reach their prime, if you forgive the play on words, they are primed for disaster for themselves and everyone who needs to count on them as the primary support in the family.
My brother and father were perfect examples of this very thing. Those used to be outliers. Not now.
This election cycle, America, with far greater enthusiasm, legalized not only pot but made fundamental changes in how the law treats everything from heroin to psilocybin. While a part of me is glad to see that (my primary interest in this regard is the undue and monumentally unfair burden on Black communities because of our so-called “drug war”, which was and continues to be a thinly-disguised war on Black folks), the legalization of pot is to my mind nothing more than White folks finally seeing the billions of potential profits in the industry.
What does this have to do with finding purpose and meaning?
Simple. If you and I develop an drug or alcohol addiction early on, we stop the search. The search for meaning then becomes the narrowed-down pinprick search for the next high, the next pill, the next puff, the next bottle. We’ve already seen this with pot:
Pot, opioids, heroin, meth, which is now being flooded into the world via brand new and aggressive growers in the Middle East:
Used to be meth manufacturers needed to import expensive cold meds to get pseudoephedrine, the key ingredient in meth. Why do that when all you need is a knife and a burlap bag? Precisely.
The Chinese are happy to supply us with fentanyl. Long as there is a demand, there will be a supply chain. Same with Mexico. The source doesn’t matter. What matters is the demand. They know that by feeding our demand they help undermine American society. And we are happily cooperating. Just read the news, and watch the slide.
When you and I decide we just cannot deal, we’ll find a dealer.
There will always be a way to produce more drugs. As long as there is a market, someone will produce in bulk. The Afghans are simply responding to demand. As are American politicians. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that legalizing pot or anything else is a move to be more fair to Black folks.
Nope. There’s more profit in drugs than in incarceration with the exception of for-profit modern medicine and prisons, which are much the same thing in unfortunate ways.
Covid and quarantine have, quite understandably, vastly increased our relative discomfort. With that, more and more of us have reached for drugs and alcohol. Please see this, and this, both of which speak to the dangerous uptick in drug use and abuse during quarantine, which sadly hasn't improved since some restrictions have been lifted.
Social media can make us feel as though others have purpose and we don’t. Not true. Quarantine and Covid have cost us in ways that we are only beginning to understand. True. This research gives me a great deal of satisfaction that the hard labor of those who largely choose to stay sober (we’re allowed our occasional benders, given the circumstances) are indeed going to be able to sail on with increasing confidence as we head into our sixties and beyond.
But not if, as a society, we beach ourselves young. Not just by demeaning ourselves for not having it all together by the ripe old age of 24, but then allowing desperation and depression sideswipe us into drug and alcohol abuse. Those addictions virtually guarantee that you and I will not get the critical education, life knowledge and School of Hard Knocks experience that make sure that we not only make it to sixty, but become people that others admire. Respect. Need. Folks whose articles the next generation will plagiarize as their own cause it’s such good shit (karma works, just wait, budding writers).
We are in such a school right now. I ask that perhaps we look for what this can teach us, the ways ahead which are uniquely internal and incredibly challenging. Those ways, if fueled by alcohol or drugs, are likely to crash our lives the way the drunk skipper grounded his tugboat, the Niki Jo C, in Virginia.
Mastery isn’t guaranteed. Age only gives us grey hair and wrinkles, constipation and cranky mornings if we don’t do something with the time we are given. I can’t speak for you or anyone else, but quarantine for me was like taking a Master’s Class in focus, patience, self-study and wickedly-uncomfortable time inside my skin. That’s not for everyone. Not at all.
I ask all of us to take heart that yes, answers do come. They take time, and trouble, and work. But they come. Sixty? Hell, my fellow grey hairs and I are just getting started.
And while the waters are rough right now, I hope with all sincerity you will find a few to lean on so that you, too, can reach your sixth decade eager to see what’s next on the horizon of your one, perfect, wildly amazing life.