I turned 45 on Friday. Despite being in quarantine, it was a good birthday. My wife got me some amazing gifts, and we had a decadent dinner of takeout sushi washed down with quality white wine.
Since reaching middle age each birthday has become time to take stock of my life. That's been even more the case in the time of covid. Already back in March when it hit I asked myself if I could face death confident I had lived a good life. I did some soul-searching and said yes.
However, middle age still continues to be a phase in life about the shedding of dreams, layer by layer. There's a reason that deaths from suicide, alcohol, and drugs spike in this part of the life-cycle. Rarely does anyone's life turn out how they wanted it too. As I hit 45 I reminded myself once again that I never got to be a noteworthy historian, and never will. I never wrote my book, and likely never will. My chance to be an internet scribbler of note has passed, too. Instead I take comfort in my friends and family, and the knowledge that my CV won't keep me warm at night or visit my grave.
These are feelings absent from pop music but at the center of classic country. Country, soul, and the blues all have room for the middle-aged experience. One of the best of these songs is "Old Five and Dimers Like Me," performed by Waylon Jennings but written by Billy Joe Shaver. The first lines are cutting;
"I spent a lifetime making up my mind to be/ More than the measure of what I thought others could see."
Yes, I am a teacher, one of the least respected professions and a job that doesn't pay. And I never wrote anything that ever made any kind of impact. But I still have the vanity to think people should see me as more than the schlub that I actually am.
It's a very unhealthy attitude. The end of the song is about accepting being a schlub, a "five and dimer." If you can't change that, there's no real point in beating yourself up about it. I think a lot about my dad's father, and how life dealt him a bad hand but he always seemed able to stay contented in spite of it. Middle age is discovering that you are no longer becoming the person you want to be, you are the person you are whether you like it or not: "It's taking me so long and now that I know I believe/ All that I do or say is all I ever will be."
Or to put it even more bluntly:
"An old five and dimer is all I intended to be."