Fifty is not the new forty. Let’s face it, fifty is fifty.
While talking to other tail-end boomers and reading what the media and blogs tell us about being middle aged I find that there are four major approaches to turning fifty out there.
The first and loudest camp is the pro-fifty crowd. By listening to this group you’d think that middle age was just one big find-the-best-part-of-yourself fest. This group plans to never age or die. They eat kale, do triathlons, change careers and have great postmenopausal sex.
Then there’s the survivalist group. They definitely know they are aging and want to stop it at all costs. They also eat kale but on a restrictive life-extending 1,000 calorie diet. Many in this group gets an extra colonoscopy each year AND will tell you their triglyceride levels at a cocktail party.
On the flip side, there are those who have given up. They have lost their jobs, their health insurance and well being. This group of fifty year olds do not have a lot of hope. It’s a young world out there and it’s hard to find your way. This isn’t just an outlook but a social/economic/political issue.
Of course there are those who don’t give a damn and are just living their lives.
If we boomers are honest, we can recognized a little of each of these perspectives in ourselves. Much of the noise out there sounds a lot like whistling in the dark to me. I for one am not whistling. The tune I was trying to carry is being drowned out by the ticking of the clock. It’s not the biological clock of my thirties, this is the sound of mortality.
I know I am going to die.
At almost fifty, this line of thinking can leave me feeling like it’s over. As a counter balance, I am fortunate to have many thriving friends and mentors who are Old. Capital O Old. Our culture hates the word, particularly middle-aged people. I use this word with the greatest of respect. If we are lucky the ultimate destination is OLD.
Ask any person in their seventies if they are living the new fifty and they will chuckle.
Standing here at the brink of fifty, I am fully aware, but not-so-accepting, of the fact that in a hop, skip and blink of two decades I will be seventy. One of my Old friends once picked up a comb and ran her thumb down the teeth, smiled and said, “This is how fast the time goes.” For me the sense of urgency is palpable.
I realize that I need to get off my lower-than-it-used-to-be butt and move a bit faster toward living. To do more, love more, make more mistakes, keep promises, show more kindness, make amends, take more risks, follow through. Let go of the hesitation and leap; to hear the clock as a heartbeat, a breath. A metronome for staying in the present.
When I tell people that I’m almost fifty, it is more often than not greeted with, “You’re at the halfway mark.”
More whistling in the dark.
If you look at statistics, I passed the top of the mountain about a decade ago. I’m more like at the timber line on the other side, going down.
Time is an illusion and the mountain analogy is too. In actuality we are all dancing from the most fragile, beautifully shimmering thread of the present moment. There is no solid mountain beneath us. There is no thinking, eating or exercising our way out of this predicament. It is universal. It doesn’t change if you are almost fifty, twenty or eighty.
When my friend Marcia knew she was losing her battle to cancer she organized a glamorous birthday party for herself. People came from all over the country. It was her pre-funeral. She didn’t hide it. She wanted to celebrate her life with the people she loved while she was alive and feeling well enough to have fun.
Marcia always said, “Nobody gets off this planet alive, so what are you going to do?”
I took the photograph at the Bastille in Grenoble, France.