Oedipus defeats the Sphinx by correctly guessing the answer to the following riddle:


As babies, we crawl on hands and feet, using four legs. When we grow up, we stand. Thus, as adults, we stride through life upright, on two legs.  In old age, we are bent over, so in the evening of our lives, we walk with the help of a cane, on three legs.

This was how human life was summed up a couple of thousand years ago and even today, there’s truth in it. But not Truth. Because the riddle’s narrow perspective focuses on the physical changes we experience though life. It leaves out the emotional and intellectual changes … the most important stuff.

As kids, we want to grow up. Children are in a terrible hurry. We race full-tilt towards a future in which anything is possible. We want it all. We want it now. When we get there, we run even faster towards the next goal.

We slow down a bit as we get to the middle of life. We accept responsibility. We load ourselves down with possessions and obligations. We simultaneously discover life doesn’t work as we expected. We see our best plans and fondest hopes dashed on the shoals of random chance, a bad marriage, a boss who doesn’t like us. Or sheer accident derails us. A bad economy makes the profession for which we prepared irrelevant. We discover, in a personal way, that people die. For no good reason. In war, in traffic. Of disease, suicide, stupidity. Unlike Hollywood, real death is usually inglorious and sad.

By the time we reach our forties, we’ve lost a few rounds and are the worse for wear. We’re slower to judge, less sure of the future. The answers of youth are replaced by more questions and the wariness of people who’ve seen a few things. We begin to pay attention to security, realize we are “peaking” professionally and should make the most of whatever opportunities are available.

And then, flash! You are not young. Seventy is not the new forty. Holy shit! Who is that old person in the mirror?

You look around the office. You’re the guy kids come to for advice. Maybe you find no one interested in your experience because “the company is going in a different direction.” People in their forties seem awfully young. Ouch. How did this happen?

We all know, on some level, we will get old. After all, if you don’t get old, you get dead. Alive is the preferred state of being at every age and stage. But no one expects to be really old. We plan to be like we’ve always been. Maybe a few gray hairs. A wiser, more mature version of the person we think we know so well.

Times changes us more than we thought possible. We quit running towards the future and start looking around to see what’s going. Here. Now. This is the future. We made it. The rainy day for which we were saving? We look up to see clouds. Rain is falling.

No more “we’ll do that someday.” Buy the camera you always wanted. Get the car of your dreams. See Paris. It’s your turn. Finally.

None of us plans to die, but we know we could. Time to shift our focus to enjoying what we are, what we have, who we have. While we can. Life is fragile and we are transitory, just passing through. It’s a very different perspective from younger years.

Will the good old days come again? Doubt it. How good were those old days? Do we want them back?

The only time we own is today. Use it well.

Ice, Water, Steam: Weekly Writing Challenge

Categories: Getting old, Life, Personal, Retirement

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

30 replies

  1. This is so inspirational, great stuff!


  2. Wow, this really made me think about how fleeting life is and how we should all grab opportunities that arise. Beautiful writing, I love how it all stemmed from a riddle!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My aches and pains seem to shift to new unknown places daily, but if I have it, Mr. Swiss has it too, so I give up. My biggest problem is my dad in england who will be 100 years old next year. I call him weekly and it helps, but it is a nagging worry that is always present.


    • We all get old. 100 is very old. I doubt anyone will be around worrying about me should reach that age (unlikely). Garry’s parents, my parents, all gone long years, so in a small way, it’s a privilege to have a living parent still. But hard, too because we aren’t so young. Hang on in there. Keep warm, have some strong tea and a few cookies and watch the snow fall.


  4. Half the people in the office were being born while I was at university 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    • Scary how quickly one stops being the Wunderkind and becomes The Old Hand. By the time I hit 40, I was a SAGE in a baby industry. I had to dodge and weave through the scary shoals of management and keep writing. I always wonder if I shouldn’t have just bitten the bullet and joined The Dark Side. It’s just that I didn’t want to tell writers what to do. I wanted to BE the writers.


  5. Loved reading this post. 😀


  6. About a year ago one of my co-workers looked at me and said, “So, when are you going to retire.” That simple, innocuous question bothered me more than I thought it would. I know I *am* old enough to retire, but I don’t *feel* old enough to retire, and, up until that point, I didn’t think I *looked* old enough to retire. I guess I was wrong on that last count. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    • Me, I would have gladly retired except for not having anything ($$$) to retire ON. I became too sick to work. I kept trying off and on to work and finally, threw in the towel. I didn’t (don’t) mind not working. I really mind not having a paycheck. Not working is just FINE with me. Garry, once he got over the shock, ultimately took to retirement with gusto. I can’t understand why anyone would keep working when they no long need to … unless they are writers or artists or some other kind of creative. I didn’t have time to do any of that until I stopped working at a “real” job.


      • Well, to be honest, I have always defined myself more by what I do than by who I am. The what is concrete, the who is a whole different ball of wax. So if I no longer do what I do, then I really won’t know who I am. And that kind of scares the hell out of me.


        • Garry was a reporter for more than 40 years and NOTHING is more addictive — or defining — than celebrity. Garry was the most career driven person I’ve ever know. But he got over it. He discovered the joy of being himself and having people ask him if he “used to be Garry Armstrong.” Probably it helped I was here. And the dogs helped. Dogs always help. For what it is worth, I don’t think either of us has been bored since we stopped working. If you write, take pictures, or have any kind of hobby, life can be fun.

          Liked by 2 people

  7. So true. Well said. It can be over in the blink of an eye. Wishing you both a very happy, healthy and joyful New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Well I look in the mirror – what the hell happened to me?
    Whatever I had has gone away
    I’m not the young kid that I used to be
    So I push the hair back out of my face

    That’s O.K., I knew this would happen
    But I was hopin’ not today
    Hey Baby, I’m not running anymore
    But I’m on my way
    – John Mellencamp

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Some serious philosophy there. But oddly enough, I know exactly what you mean.


  10. He reached his hand down from the mountain.
    i touched his fingertips and I could have taken it.
    But I failed. I faltered.
    Here, above the treeline I was enter the clouds.
    But I did not have the will.
    God forgive me.

    Liked by 2 people


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