Recently, a young(er) woman of my acquaintance noted her "surprise at how little runway middle-aged women have left ahead of them". There was a collective sharp intake of breath among the middle-aged women in the room; this should have been what is known in the hostess biz as a gaffe, but the speaker seemed oblivious.
Okay then. After giving my eyebrows a bit of exercise, raising first one, then the other, I sailed off into a vaguely associative reverie of gaff rigging, if only to drop anchor in quieter waters...one more good yank on the throat halyard.... Days later, my phone was still crackling with incoming high dudgeon. What was she talking about? What did she mean? No malice had been intended, I'm sure. It just seemed such a sad way to think about navigating middle age.
The comment nagged at me for nearly a week. Now, whenever things are bothering me, I try to channel my friend Caroline. She has what is called An Excellent Attitude. She is invariably cheery, when she isn't inconsolable. She generally manages to look on the sunny side. Caroline once taught me a nifty trick of clenching my fists in front of me, fingers up, and then opening them slowly, stretching my arms away from my body, as if to release whatever I am holding on to. It really works; it generates this soothing, oh, I dunno, I give up, you take it, feeling. I pondered short runways while clenching and unclenching my fists. In the next few days, I sped through the five stages of mourning--mourning my lost chance at a witty repartie, that is--zipping from Denial (did she really say that? it isn't even true!) to Anger (how dare she! wait till she turns fifty!) to Bargaining (listen, how about I trade you a couple of years for some of my wisdom?) to Depression (oh dear, there are indeed fewer years ahead, how terrible, so much to do, so little runway...) and I emerged, the proud bearer of Acceptance.
It is true. We have less runway. And what's the problem? As we grow older, we don't need more, and we don't want that extra mileage. That's because we have gotten smarter. We finally know where we're going, without the endless taxi-ing, the wasting of precious fuel, the aimless shunting from one strip to another. Why, some of us don't even have engines; we're just gliding, silently and serenely, on whatever currents we catch. And we know better than to haul around tons of excess baggage; we've dumped it. We aren't piloting those fat old jumbo jets, full of irritated, irritating passengers; 757s can't get liftoff without miles of runway. We're in command of snappy little private planes. Passengers board by invitation only. We're traveling light, nimble and fast.
So, however many miles you have to go, I wish you only the best. Sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. Those endless blue skies will forever beckon.