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Over the Hill – Becoming Grown Up

July 7, 2018

Kris Camealy


Sometimes, I surprise my children by doing things they imagine that grown-ups no longer do.


I’m standing there in my birthday suit with a faded brown towel wrapped around my soft middle, staring down at my dripping feet. I’m eyeing a vein on the top of my foot—is it bulging? I don’t remember this vein being so prominent. I can’t decide, and it’s too late—close to 1AM. I’ve just returned home from a theme park where I walked 12-miles. That’s all it is, I determine, before falling into bed with a mess of wet hair.

In the morning I wake without opening my eyes. I lay still, listening to the hum of the air conditioner and the silence of the still-sleeping house. With eyes still closed I feel myself spiraling. I feel the mattress still beneath me but I spin just the same. I smile in the dark. I can’t believe I rode that rollercoaster. My stomach flips as I lay still, as if my body is re-living the thrill of turning upside down 6 times—isn’t that what my daughter had told me when we finally stepped back onto the earth—that we’d flipped “SIX TIMES?” Her Cheshire grin was wide when she’d said it, blue-green eyes sparkling with the residual joy of the experience.

“I didn’t know grown-ups ride roller coasters,” she’d said with legitimate shock.

“They do”, I acknowledged, still trembling from our six mid-air summersaults. My eyes had been closed. I’d barely seen a thing.

As soon as that padded harness locked down over my shoulders, across my chest, the first thought I had was that, I am too old for this. Oh God, I’d whisper-shouted over and over again as we rode, half-prayer, half-curse. After that I’d spent the remains of the day sticking to rides that didn’t turn me end over end.

Later while passing some other wild ride whipping passed us, I noticed a gray-haired person (it happened too fast to determine if it had been a man or a woman), strapped in to the flying contraption and I marveled.  

This summer marks the 40th year of my life. This is the season when I am “over the hill”—the half-way point of my journey. I haven’t decided how I feel about it. Should I feel a certain way? What’s the protocol for this new season? I have a friend who grins wide whenever we chat about her being in her forties, and always breathes out, something along the lines of these being “the best years yet”. She’s sincere. She says it with relaxed acceptance. When the words slide out of her mouth, it’s as if they sparkle when making contact with the external air between our faces. She models for me, the full embrace of my coming age.

I realized the other day how often lately, I’ve half-joked about being “too old” for this or that thing, or some activity,

riding rollercoasters

wearing heels of a certain height

staying up until dawn

eating greasy cheeseburgers

I’ve said it with my tongue in my cheek, but I wonder if I’m beginning to believe that age is a confinement. A reduction of privileges. A limiter of experiences. I wonder if in looking at a life-half over, I am subconsciously closing doors to adventures yet to be taken. My daughter’s question becomes my own—do grown-ups…?

If our lives are a day, then middle age is the afternoon of life. I thought about this when I read Robert Frost’s words, “The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.” Who among us could disagree with the reality that our lives bear the marks and scars of experiences we never saw coming when we were children?

 How many unexpected, unplanned turns has my own life taken to this point? Turning 40—or any age for that matter, always invites reflection on the divergence of roads, and those taken (or not), to use Frost’s well-worn analogy.

Jobs, moves, children born and lost. Relationships bloomed and withered, communities loved and changed or left. The private evolution of our own theology, the stretching and bending in marriage, or in singleness. The surprising linger of grief over loved ones passed, or conflict unresolved. The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected. Indeed.

Our lives are the continual culmination of these moments. And with the passage of years we seem to keep re-discovering the things we have known, but now know them differently. In conversations about age amongst my friends, we all agree that even though the veins in our feet may bulge, and our bodies shudder and revolt at the riding of rollercoasters, we still feel a certain number of years younger in our minds. What does it mean to be grown-up?  

In her book, Walking On Water, Madeline L’Engle wrote,

“I am still every age that I have been. Because I was once a child, I am always a child. Because I was once a searching adolescent, given to moods and ecstasies, these are still part of me, and always will be…This does not mean that I ought to be trapped or enclosed by any of these ages…the delayed adolescent, the childish adult, but that they are in me to be drawn on; to forget is a form of suicide…Far too many people misunderstand what ‘putting away childish things’ means, and think that forgetting what it is like to think and feel and touch and smell and taste and hear like a three-year-old or a thirteen-year-old or a twenty-year-old means being grown up. When I am with these people I, like the kids, feel that if this is what it means to be a grown-up, then I don’t ever want to be one. Instead of which, if I can retain a child’s awareness and joy, and be fifty-one, then I will really learn what it means to be grown up.”

As I crest and prepare to descend this hill, as I consider this afternoon of life that will, and must inevitably turn towards an eventual evening, should God grant me as much. I will take stock of where I have been, the real-life rollercoasters that I have survived. The seasons that made me sick, and the seasons that brought me undulated joy—and all that have fallen all in between. I will let my friend’s shimmering words about this being “the best years yet” sink into my heart, even when I’m staring at new wrinkles, squishier flesh and muted veins now protruding.

I will do my best to ride the remainder of this life with my eyes wide open, despite the terror of dark nights, and arrows flying by day. I will remember that I am every age I have ever been, and that seasons long past are not gone, but are the layers of a life that is still unfolding. I will see that fertility once imagined only in the physical sense, is more than a womb, it is more than flesh forming—for it is spiritual too.

If I can retain a child’s awareness and joy…then I will really learn what it means to be grown-up.

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  1. Lori Jean Whitaker says:

    Love! Love! Love!

  2. Jody Collins says:

    ” I will remember that I am every age I have ever been, and that seasons long past are not gone, but are the layers of a life that is still unfolding.” Amen and amen.

  3. Jody, I love that line, too. Yes, and amen!

  4. Erin G says:

    Love this! My daughter couldn’t believe I rode roller coasters with her either. Albeit, I had forgotten how fast they really are, and more wanted her to experience the thrill. What a fun reminder that we are never too old to have fun and live life to the fullest. 40 is right around the next two corners for me, and I finally feel like I can start breathing again. So yes, it is well.

  5. so, so good Kris! May we All maintain the heart of a child, holding his hand across the road and all the way home.

  6. Patricia says:

    Love this. I will be 65 next month. Not sure yet how I feel about that😐

  7. Susan says:

    The ‘afternoon’ is sometimes the brightest and warmest time of the day! We have been trained by our society to see aging as a decline but isn’t it an ascent? Aren’t we growing towards? I turned 53 in March but didn’t realize it until recently. I know that sounds strange but when someone would inqure about my age (being all gray very early makes that question a regular one) it dawned on me that I had remained 52 an extra six months-which made me chuckle, but also made me very happy because I realized I had begun to let go of the constraint of age. At least for about six months. I am finding that yes drips off my lips in a different way now. Not the crazy,busy, striving way but in the linger in the warmth a little longer way. In the hope filled way that comes with living less distracted by things that don’t really matter in the end. So, welcome my afternoon friend to the longer, lingering days-they are beautiful, full, and rich ❤️

  8. K.C. Ireton says:

    Dearest Kris, Welcome to your 40’s, friend. 🙂 It really is the Best Decade Yet. My last roller coaster was at 38 (and good riddance!). However, I took my first-ever backpack trip at 42–something I’d thought about doing for 20 years. This is the season for discerning which old dreams to brush off and bring into the light. Happy coasting–may the wind in your face bring you joy. And may we both relax into the “longer, lingering days” Susan spoke of. xo.

  9. Bronwyn Jardin says:

    Welcome to the “Over-the Hill” gang,” my darling Kris. Beautiful reflection on chronological vs. emotional and spiritual time with these temporary shells we inhabit. Wait til you marvel at your own children sliding, swooping, spinning into middle age! As your beloved Grandad always said, “ You see your body aging, but your mind is still 21!” . . . ( Or 3, 13 or ??)Loving life right now, every minute, as “Momma & Nana!” Thanks for the blessing of your words!❤️

  10. Renee says:

    This spoke to me deep in my soul – thank you!

  11. Renee, thank you for sharing this. Kris’s writing here speaks deeply to me, too! It’s a good word for both of us. 🙂

  12. Kris! I enjoyed reading this! That L’Engle quote is one I’ve repeated often the last several years. Thanks for sharing!

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