In a well-lived life, the question asked most often is: Do you know how old you are? I suspect it began at the age of two when I threw up on the living room carpet. Can’t remember why, but there must have been a good reason. One of the adults in the room, probably embarrassed, asked, “Do you know how old you are?” The implication was clear: You are old enough to know better.
And it keeps happening. At 10, when you are sent to the principal’s office in school because of some confusion over the homework – you thought you had completed it, your teacher thought you hadn’t. “Do you know…” Of course you knew at 10 how old you were, but this was not a question to be taken literally; you had to absorb its implications.
A decade later, the question comes rushing into your life again. How could you think that her parents wouldn’t find out? “Do you know…?” The right question would have been, “Do you know how old her parents are?”, but parents never get asked that question. It is always the youngster who should have known better.
At 30, when I couldn’t run the mile in under four minutes, the question changed from being an accusation to one of sympathy. It is as if the older person was saying, “Don’t worry if you can’t do it. After all, you know how old you are…”
It was also around this time too that you became the questioner yourself having been a questionee for long. “Do you know how old you are…?” I remember asking my son then turning three and also turning green prior to throwing up on the carpet (a different one from the one I had decorated a generation ago, let me quickly add). The powerful questioning tool is now yours. It is as if Thor has left his hammer in your safekeeping.
Soon random people begin to ask you the question. The barber, for instance, who is upset and glad in equal measure that your are turning grey and wants to paint your hair black. The butcher who wants to know if he should actually sell you red meat, considering how old you are. The phone seller who is not sure you can handle the latest tech. The tailor who understands what you want but tries to convince you that you are past the age to be able to carry it off.
Then there is the publisher, unsure if you will last till you finish the final chapter of your book. “Do you know how old…” he begins, and you know life has come full circle, the seven ages of man and all that.
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