I should have seen it coming. Much like my own experience of the end of my 30s, Ryan’s lead-up and entry into his 40th year was nothing if not fraught. No matter how together, or successful, or happy you may be, when approaching the big 4-0, there’s always that gnawing sense of lack. All those things you thought you’d do, have, and be by the time you hit middle age? Tick, tock, RING. Not gonna happen. The big secret about reaching middle age is that arriving there is all about figuring out who you are now, since it’s rarely who you meant to be. Of course, Ryan hit 40 almost two years ago. Now approaching the even bigger 4-2 and definitely hitting his personal and professional stride, it sure seemed like the worst was over. And then the unfortunate form letter arrived from the Illinois Secretary of State. I was standing next to Ryan as he read it. It started off amicably enough:
“Dear Friend, your Illinois driver’s license will expire.”
Ryan told me he expected the next words to be instructions on how to renew by mail, as usual.
“To renew your driver’s license, please visit a facility located on the back of this notice.”
Right between the eyes, with the DMV middle-age two-by-four.
“*Vision Screening, all applicable Illinois written examination(s), and a fee is (sic) required to renew your license for a 4 year period.”
And there it was. When you hit middle age in Illinois, the State loses all confidence in your ability to see and remember the rules of the road. If you’re a thickly-lensed, unnecessarily aggressive driver under 40, keep up the good work. We’ll trust you anyway. But hit 40 and don’t think the Land of Lincoln isn’t well aware you’re starting to slowly deteriorate into dust.
“If your ability to drive might be affected by a medical or physical condition, you will be required to bring a completed medical report with you. If a favorable medical report is not presented, you will be denied a driver’s license.”
By the end of the letter, the look of shock on Ryan’s face told me we were back at square one. Clearly, it would take months of pep talks and supportive hugs to get my man back over the age hump.
“Our goal is to provide you efficient, friendly service. Your opinions are very important to us and will allow us to better serve you in the future.”
Ryan definitely had a few choice opinions to share about the Illinois Secretary of State. Not that anything had materially changed about him between beginning and finishing the letter. He’s still got the best job he’s ever had in his life. My hair’s still grayer. And thanks to our recent addictions to green smoothies and Zenni Optical, we’re both feeling more energetic and stylish than we have in years. Ultimately, there’s little point in complaining. You can’t turn back the clock, no matter how hard you try. But you can still have the coolest frames in the room. Not to mention a regular constitution. Priorities after 40, after all.
Michael Thaddeus Doyle
I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.