Fifty. The age of doddering great-aunts. The age when people once seemed to me too old to be relevant, too old to have their ideas considered.
In less than two weeks, I – I! – will be that age. And like most people who reach an age such as this, I have no idea how I got here.
I’m not upset about the number. I am mesmerized by it.
However a person "should" feel at 50, I don’t. As the song “Fifteen” by Five for Fighting puts it, I’m 15 for a moment. I’m 22 for a moment, then 33. I was just 45. And all too soon, I’ll be 99. In all likelihood, I am on the downhill side of the whole deal, and that fact gives me pause. But I can’t say it makes me panic. As I do with most things, I’ve decided instead to over-analyze it. And the closest I’ve come to a conclusion is this:
I am planning to rock 50. I feel I’ve pretty much rocked 49, and I don’t foresee any changes.
Let me explain. I sure won’t rock 50 physically; I’m not running any marathons. But I’m doing all right. I walk each and every day, rain or shine, and thanks to a couple of really expensive prosthetics, my joints work better than they have in two decades. My diet still needs work – for the first time in my life, my wrists are fat! -- but I’m making an effort. I take a low-dose aspirin every day and hope it wards away evil spirits.
And although I may have more skin to contend with, I’m more comfortable than ever inside it. After all these years, I know how to dress my no-waisted, round-shouldered body. I can’t afford cosmetic surgery, and I'm pretty sure I don't want it anyway, so I buy good bras. I’m not ready for my gray hair yet, so I do the best I can to keep it covered. I delight in every benign pathology report and every clear body scan.
I also delight in the fact that my arthritis hasn’t spread to my hands. I can still type.
I’m happiest that I no longer care at all about trying to be beautiful, but the comfort I’m feeling isn’t all physical. Not by a long shot. Like many families, mine incurred some early and pretty major loss, and I coped by diving inward. I can see now, though, how that actually worked to my benefit. As a child, I spent a lot of time alone with words, exposing myself to their variety and fluidity and cadences. Words became my blanket and my comfort and my home. Later on, they became my confidence.
I can’t do math. I can’t cook very well. But I can speak my words, and I can write them, and now that I’m almost 50, I don’t shy away from using them to communicate exactly what I want to. That is the greatest gift I see in being the age I am.
I’m also grateful that I’ve learned from my mistakes, and that I’ve learned there’s no disgrace in saying, “I was wrong; I’m sorry.” And I’m trying hard to learn that guilt is useless, and that my faith assures me forgiveness for the many times I’ve acted too impulsively and spoken too strongly. I’ve also learned that people can change, but only if they want to … and if they don’t think they’re wrong in the first place, they’re not going to alter anything. And I’ve learned other people’s untruths are not mine to expose, and that sometimes it’s OK to sit back, take a deep breath, and embrace the silence.
I’ve learned that parenting never stops, and that there’s no room for selfishness in it. I know that the adage “happy parents, happy children” isn’t always true, and that sometimes, adults have to live with the fact that our needs may not always be met, but that our children’s must be. And I derive immense joy from having raised kids who think.
At almost 50, I’ve learned that the airplane and the Internet are the two greatest inventions in the history of the world. And after taking my first trip to Europe this year, I absolutely see the value in going back as soon as I can, and taking more of the people I love with me.
I’ve also come to realize that it’s my job, as I grow older, to document history before it disappears. My parents were part of the first generations of their families that were born in this country; I’m only once removed from my the poverty my grandparents traveled across the world to escape. I can't allow the stories of those brave and proud people to lose their relevance.
So far, I’ve lasted eight more years that my mother was given; I like to think she’s proud of the way I’ve used them, and the way I’ll use any remaining ones. I also like to think that in the next decade, I’ll become a grandmother. My husband and others who have experienced that milestone say the simple joy of it will bring me to my knees.
All the nonsense about “50 is the new 30” doesn’t sway me; I look at my face and remember my experiences and know that, yes, the years have passed, and to some degree, they’ve taken their toll. But they’ve also allowed me to understand that time is truly a gift, and it’s one I’ll accept with gratitude and reverence.
Fifty. It is, as they say, better than the alternative. But in reality, it’s so much more. Fat wrists and all, I’m happy to be here.