Maybe the only thing I have in common with Bono, Amy Grant, Julianne Moore, Antonio Banderas, Cal Ripken, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Wayne Gretzky, George Stephanopoulos and Fabio is that we all recently turned fifty. I’ve been thinking about how to commemorate my Jubilee year. My friend Julie Pennington-Russell celebrated her fiftieth year by climbing Stone Mountain fifty times, so I’m considering eating fifty pizzas or watching fifty episodes of MASH.
Carol gave me an elliptical for my birthday—which I’m trying to figure out how to take as a compliment. I’ve heard that every minute you spend exercising adds another minute to your life. The problem is that you’ve spent that minute exercising.
Turning fifty wasn’t really news to me. I’ve been getting older for some time. My mother stopped giving me a dollar per year ten birthdays ago. I no longer order spicy food. I am afraid to drink Dr Pepper after 7:00. I eat less and weigh more. I haven’t been to Luby’s yet, but I hear the food is very good. Sometimes I nod my head when I have no idea what the person on the other side of the table just said. I’m this close to buying a magnifying glass. I take more time between haircuts. I have trouble remembering the capital of Vermont—it’s Montpeiler—even though I knew them all in the fourth grade. I am comfortable knowing that I will never again be awake for the end of the Oscars. It’s almost certain that more of my life is behind me than ahead of me, but perhaps I’m only fifty years away from Willard Scott wishing me a happy birthday.
People seem confused about what to say. One fifty-three-year-old offered this word of encouragement, “Turning fifty isn’t the end of the world.” One of my students exclaimed, “Happy quarter of a century!” as though half a century was too antiquated to even imagine. Any minute now I will be replacing Wilford Brimley as the spokesperson for Quaker Oats.
I’ve been told about a dozen times that “Fifty is the new thirty”—which makes no sense. I like to think that the writer of the country song with the line, “I’m old enough to know better, but still too young to care” is fifty, but he’s probably thirty.
I understand the temptation to be the grumpy old man who complains that television shows don’t tell stories, the music on the radio is noise and the Google machines are making us stupid, but the truth is I am happy to have an AARP card. I’m old enough to skip the cake and have my son bake a pie. My niece assures me that “The Bieber Decade” is going to be great.
Jimmy Buffett sings about “growing older but not up,” but it is a good gift to recognize that you are growing older and up. I am not planning to be a late bloomer. I’ve figured out that some things are not going to happen and I am fine with that. I’m not going to run a marathon or be on “Dancing with the Stars.”
Being fifty gives you perspective. When you’re moving slower you see more. Forgiveness comes easier. Prayer seems more natural. Most of my troubles are not nearly as big as I used to think.
My parents point out that fifty isn’t seventy, but it’s not thirty either. Fifty is old enough to understand that life is too short not to live it like you will wish you had lived it when it is over. Fifty is an opportunity to give up on impressing anyone and enjoy the things you love while you can. Recognizing that we are on borrowed time helps us appreciate each day.
Fifty is a good time to ponder the rest of the path. There is still time for new beginnings, risks and dreams, but you also know to look for small wonders. I like being fifty. I feel young again.