(As perhaps another indication of an Elder mind, this post somehow wandered into references to Melissa Etheridge and Australian Rules football. Just saying.)
The theme of Josef Conrad’s The Shadow Line: A Confession is the shift, as he saw it, from ‘youth’ to ‘manhood’, a change scarcely to be discerned while it happens, but which is later so definite that there is no return.
Lacking a gripping tale of the storm-lashed sea, I shall instead offer a mundane one of the crowded commuter train.
Lately, I have been offered seats on the train. I’ve been offered them by youngish persons. For some reason most of these persons have been Young Women, some in high school uniforms, who of course ought to give up seats under train etiquette. But others wear outfits distinctive of city-workers.
These young ladies might even be seated a row or two away when they signal at me to make their offer. This means they have to blunder past other passengers to swap with me. I say ‘blunder’ because they all seem to be strapping, vigorous netball goal defenders or potential football players*, capable of shoulder charges that could flatten my unwary fellow passengers. To my relief, so far no-one in the aisles has been skittled.
Most young people on the train are polite, and over the years I’ve been offered a seat a few times. My policy was to thank them but to say no, as I was happy to stand. And I was. My policy now is to sink my inexplicably weary frame into that place and utter my heartfelt thanks. Weirdly, these lasses may then beam at me as if I’m the one who has just made their day.
Several things about this perplex me.
When, oh when, did I start feeling so tired at the end of the working day?
When did the Young Women of Today start becoming Amazonian in stature? They tower over me. They tower over their parents. And I have not yet begun to remark on the Young Men of Today riding the escalators next to me whose high-school-shorts-clad, gorilla-hairy thighs seem to have been bred specifically with rugby scrums in mind. Has a growth substance been added to their energy drinks by a secret agency?
Most disconcertingly, when did I somehow start seeming to at least some Younger Persons to be, shudder, an Elder?
I am decades away from considering myself old. Yet, if I have indeed crossed a shadow line into this elder-hood, there can be no return.
*I refer to Australian Rules Football, a full-on contact sport with no protective gear, which women now play professionally. If you want to see something gladiatorial, watch this! Melissa Etheridge, who recently discovered it, will be yelling along with you at every High Mark. This is a revered move whereby you’re not just allowed but encouraged to get the ball by crushing the living daylights out of opponents.
**Why “hanger”? The player seems to hang in the air at the peak of the mark before crashing to earth, her fall usually cushioned by those flattened opponents. And the crowd roars.