Leaving the youth bracket

35th birthday calls for reflection as the law defines youth as 18-34

In Summary

• An adult old enough to run for President shares her life lessons

A young woman meditates
A young woman meditates

Article 260 of Kenya's Constitution defines a youth as a person aged between 18 years and 34 years. I have officially left that bracket. It’s a humbling moment, I cannot lie. The beauty, the agileness, the physique and even the grey matter slowly start to wither before your very eyes.

A friend from postgraduate school texted me a couple of days before my birthday, asking how I felt turning the big number. He had met me in 2014, at the height of my prime, and he was in his thirties already. I remember the days we spent happily chatting away in our shared office for three years… but my mind can't wrap its head around the fact that I graduated with my Master's degree six years ago! That was my latest academic achievement, which means that my Bachelor's degree days happened a good dozen or so years prior!

How? I remember everything as if it was yesterday. Sometimes, the details of the past are clearer than the details of the present. “Is this what ageing is like?” I asked my good friend Adrian, now in his late forties and a first-time grandfather. “Getting older and weaker, but in your mind’s eye, you are still an energetic 20-year-old?”

I turned to my husband and said, “We are halfway to retirement age.” The thought of being halfway to 70 years (if we are lucky enough to live that long) terrifying on its own. On one hand, we are panicked because we are that much closer to being senior citizens, yet on the other hand, the panic rises at the realisation of the severity of growing older, and the preparation that needs to take place for our arrival in Ithaka.

I find the poem Ithaca by CP Cavafy a good analogy of our life’s journey. Cavafy starts his poem with, “As you set out for Ithaca, hope your road is a long one…” He continuously reminds us to keep Ithaca in our minds, but we must enjoy the voyage and learn as much as we can from our journey so that when we arrive at our destination, we are grateful for all we have learnt along the way.

At this age, we find ourselves gobsmack in the middle of everything. We are in a chokehold position of caring for the older generations as well as the younger ones. This is the age where most of us have started having children or have children who are in their schoolgoing years. We have to provide for them as well as our ageing parents, who are themselves facing retirement.

We have to balance caring for those who depend on us while simultaneously planning for the future. As a retiree, you must have accumulated a certain amount of wealth or passive income that guarantees your financial wellbeing. We have to live through the inflation rates, the corruption, unemployment and debts to survive the present, but also for our old age as well. The whole thing seems absurd from this vantage point.

I am right in the middle of my climb. I can never go down, but I may be lucky enough to reach the top. Turning 35 is that momentary pause in your journey, where you turn around and see how far you have come. Do you have any regrets? Do you wish you could redo some things? Great! Then hold those feelings close to your heart as you turn around and continue on your way. If we are lucky enough, maybe the view from the vantage point of a 70-year-old would be much clearer.

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