I was somewhere in my thirties when I saw it. At the time, I must confess it had no personal relevance.
I was playing hooky one afternoon, browsing around the shops of Seaport Village. Suddenly, in their mug shop, there it was. A coffee cup with a simple, delphic message:
“When you turn forty, your body develops a mind of its own.”
As I say, at the time it was merely a mildly amusing souvenir with no particular personal relevance. After all, A) I wasn’t even that close to being forty and, B) it was obviously pretty silly to imagine that suddenly, at one arbitrary even-decade landmark, some peculiar event would magically occur.
To paraphrase Mr. Houseman: Oh! ‘Tis true, ’tis true!
I don’t know the physiological mechanism that causes this sorcery to occur, and I doubt I ever will. But, brother can I verify its truth!
You notice it in lots of little things. Like, for instance, once you could sit at your job throughout the week and then madly run around on the weekends, playing volleyball or whatever, without consequence.
No more. Now you either constantly work to stay in shape or you pay for those weekend sprees with sore muscles, aching joints and the general gait and posture of a ninety year old.
Or, for instance, knowing the importance of keeping in shape, you used to put in a little mild exercise every now and then and find it returned manifold, with increased vitality, deeper sleep and an improved attitude. It was all a wonderfully downhill kind of experience.
No more. Now it is all uphill. Now you have to flog your complaining body through a long, stressful regimen, endlessly repeated, before it rewards you with aches, pains and a very small, reluctant gain.
I could go on with a long list. Some are well known. You find your arms getting shorter and your get to contemplate the alternatives of craning your neck with bifocals or messing around with, and losing, multiple set of glasses.
Some are less publicized. You find that that graceful touch of grey in your hair spreads with alarming greed, migrating to other, far more personal areas of your body.
But there is one bodily betrayal that I find personally more underhanded, more consequential and far more embarrassingly public than all the others. There comes a dark day when you discover that your well tried dietary rules are suddenly a thing of the past. Eat precisely what you used to, exercise precisely as much as you used to, change absolutely, bloody nothing and guess what happens.
You get fat.
In what seems too be a truly overnight event, producing pounds and ounces and bulges of unsightly, seam-stretching fat overnight becomes the favorite sport of your suddenly rebellious body.
On surprisingly little fuel, your blubber machine displays its new talent to produce unfortunate volumes of lard and locate it where you least desire it.
And all that is if you eat wisely. But if you sin, Oh, Brother!
Sneak a little ice cream, have a few french fries, and you find it, geometrically multiplied, adorning your body. At times it seems as if you were to breath a little too much, you body will figure out some way to turn it into fat.
And it seems to me that, as a sort of ironic final fillip to the whole transition, you also find yourself possessed of a craving for every fattening food on the menu.
Sauces and gravies and cheeses and virtually anything with sugar in it acquire an allure that they never had before. Where once we were mineral water and salad stoics, our psyches are transformed into greedy gourmands, whispering temptations into our ears.
And then, God help us, there is chocolate.
Now normally I don’t believe you should draw too much theological meaning from the incidental crises of everyday life. Phenomenology, like analogy, is a tool that misleads as often as it leads.
But just maybe this whole set of phenomena is too broad, too perfect and too ironic to be dismissed.
Lately I have had this suspicion that all this reveals something about the true nature of god. Maybe we have been wrong, all these years, imagining god as a wise, white bearded, benevolent old man. Judging purely actions to those of us over forty, maybe it would be more accurate to envision god as young, grinning, perpetually thin and with a very unfortunate sense of humor.