Fifty seems to be a significant number. It is important enough to merit “golden status” when we commemorate the 50th anniversary of something. This is my 63rd blog posting and I happen to be writing it on my 50th birthday. When I type the words my 50th birthday, the number 50 takes on a whole other feel. It feels like a big number. It also feels like a place to reflect and share some random thoughts that have been banging around in my head as this milestone has been approaching. So, here is 63 at 50, what life looks like to me at this moment.
I used to think 50 was old. When I think back about my impressions of my grandparents when I was just a youngster, they were about the age I am now. They seemed older. In a sense, I think they were. For whatever reason (I’ve thought about this a lot and have never fully wrapped my mind around it) people seem to age more slowly now. I look at my parents and think, how can they be in their 70s? They neither look nor act like it, neither do most of their friends of the same age. I look at pictures of my grandparents when I was a young boy (when they were my age now) and they looked every bit the part of the stereotypical grandparent. It is a strange phenomenon to me. But regardless of appearances, we are as old as our birth certificates say we are and there is no escaping it.
I went through a phase in my early years when I was pretty frightened at the prospect of death, perhaps even unhealthily so. I had morbid thoughts about my own mortality, sometimes feeling almost certain that some illness would take me before I ever reached the age I am now. I sometimes still have thoughts about my mortality and death, but they don’t linger long and they don’t really bother me. I have come to realize that reaching “a certain age” has taken the sting out of the concept of death. Life has a way of preparing us that way, I suppose. If it were not so, as time passed and we began to approach our golden years, every tick of the clock would be more dreadful. That just doesn’t seem to be the case. The fact is, at 50, I almost certainly have quite a few more years in my rearview mirror than I have in my windshield. I once thought that prospect to be devastating, now it’s just another fact of life, no more worrisome than taxes or the current IU basketball team. Sure they suck, but what are you going to do?
What is worrisome are the aches and pains that accompany 50. I put my body through a lot of stress in athletics for my first 30 years. I feel that in my bones now. What I do worry about is staying on top of my physical fitness from here on out. It occurred to me this morning as I creaked and groaned myself out of bed that AARP isn’t just an acronym, it’s also the sound I emit when I get up from being sedimentary for too long. What worries me most is that, so far, I have not been worried enough about this to make myself do what it takes to stay fit. Fifty is a good place to make a resolution to begin getting into better shape. I haven’t let myself go too far yet, but every tick of the clock from here on out will make it more difficult to shape up. Might as well face it.
I used to think I knew a lot. Truth be told, in the last decade, I have become a better read, better educated, more well-rounded person than I was before. But, looking out from my perch at 50, I no longer think I know a lot. I have come to the conclusion that the more I have learned, the more there is to learn. I know much more now about what I don’t know, what I will never know. I don’t have any answers, really. I just have a lot of questions. I guess I’ve learned that life is a never ending search for answers.
Over the years, I have moved a bit from right to left on the political spectrum. I have always been nearer the center, but my heart and mind have softened as I have aged. I have begun to listen to the voices of people I once marginalized. I quit allowing myself to be told what to think about certain things and finally began to read and listen to both sides. I like some things about being a political centrist, but it is also endlessly frustrating. My position allows me to mix and mingle in multiple worlds. I can hold reasonable conversations with people to the right and left of me, and do so often. As my mind has become more open to others’ ideas, I have also become less tolerant of those whose minds are closed. I have little patience left for people who think they have all the answers. I guess I see my old self in them.
As I look back on the first 50 years of my life, I begin to see how precious time is. The first 30 years of life seem to crawl by, things begin picking up speed after 30. The decade between 40 and 50 seems almost a blur. I can’t figure out where the time went. It is especially mind-boggling when I think of it from the perspective of a parent. Watching my daughter grow from a painfully shy little grade-schooler to a confident and driven high-schooler has pretty much blown my understanding of time out of the water. In a couple years, she will be leaving us for college. Where that time went I will never understand.
It makes me hate how much of my time I have wasted.
There is the real lesson of 50.
If I am lucky, I may have another 30 years of good health and sound mind. Knowing what I now know about the fleeting nature of time, I don’t think I want to waste what I have left.