Last night, I had a little cucumber salad.
As 50 recedes in the rearview mirror—some days slowly, others with startling speed—I ponder ways to keep my life fresh. Not that I think it’s moldy or boring now. I just know that as we get older, we’re more likely to fall into a rut. The Professor tells me there’s little chance of this in my case. I made four moves in my 30s, each to a new job and state/territory. During my 40s, I made two career changes, each requiring new education and a certification or licensing process. This past summer, shortly before my 51st birthday, I started yet another position to mix with my investigation work.
I’m a bilingual field interviewer for the National Survey on Drug Use & Health, a study commissioned by the U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services that has been around since 1971. I run around neighborhoods in various parts of Washington State, speaking with randomly selected participants and conducting interviews with them. I read maps (print!) and find new places and talk to new people every day. I climb steep driveways and scale stairs. I solve puzzles (if Apts. 3, 4, and 6 are on this side, where the heck is #5?). In all ways, it’s a mentally and physically active job.
My fear is that the decline could happen so slowly that I might not notice. I want to be proactive in continuing to bring new things into my life. I don’t know that I’ll be like my dad, who recently, at 84, left his last (we think) job. Until he was 80, they heated their big Wisconsin farmhouse largely with wood he cut himself off their land. Who can be like that? But I want to stay on the move.
By now, I have a good handle on a lot of my likes and dislikes. I like Thai green curry, 4 stars. I don’t like cilantro or olives or seafood, ever, in anything. But what if there are other things on the menu that I’ve never tried, that I might like? If I always order just the curry, how will I know? And the menu is symbolic of the rest of life. If I only do the things I already know I like, how will I have new adventures and learn new things? If I don’t push through fear—of failure, of the unknown—how will I keep growing? If I don’t bring unfamiliar books, plays, movies, music, podcasts, people into my life, how will I be exposed to new ideas? Travel! New experiences! A life lived! With the help of Dramamine and Ativan, I will yet make that helicopter ride over Snoqualmie Falls.
This doesn’t mean that I feel I have to be constantly searching out crazy new things to do and see. It’s about an attitude, an openness. Most times, it consists of small things. I see the play that doesn’t necessarily feel at first like my cup of tea. I watch a documentary on something I don’t know much about, instead of another Cheers rerun. Or, along with my green curry, I order a little cucumber salad that I have noticed on the menu but have never tried. And—it was delicious.
p.s. Shout out to Intrepid Reader Peter who, at 60-something, recently earned his private investigator’s license and began a new career after a distinguished, 30-year stint as a journalist. No moss growing on you!