I turned 50 this summer. Fifty. It hurts to write it like stubbing your toe on cement, except the pain burns in the core of your gut and not your toe. Fifty is a thinking age. Fifty is a reassessing age.
Even saying that I am 50 is a huge revelation. For years, only a few friends and family knew my age. To everyone else, I was perpetually 28. I told myself I hadn’t lived up to my potential. I believed that not admitting how many years I had failed to do so would make me feel better. In truth, it probably made me feel worse. Either way, there comes a time when a ruse like that feels a bit pathetic. It reeks of unmerited desperation.
When I turned 40, my mother told me that 40 had felt like freedom to her. She loved turning 40. At 40, she explained, she finally had a sense that she could be herself. She didn’t have to answer to anyone’s whims, and she was empowered as never before. Later that year, she became pregnant with me. I’ll never know how the pregnancy and the added responsibility of a fifth child may have dampened her spirits, but I’d like to think that energy she felt at turning 40 lasted for at least the next 40 years.
I didn’t relate to my mother’s feelings at 40. I didn’t feel more free or powerful, no less constrained by expectations, no euphoric sense of not being subject to society’s whims, no expanded awareness of my self-determination.
I am now a decade and a few weeks beyond that milestone birthday, and I think I finally know what Mom meant. It’s been a decade in which I’ve made a lot of friends, picked up a few dogs, started competing in Agility, and most importantly, opened my heart to love a wonderful woman. Of course, I’m still learning to admit that I do it all imperfectly, and that’s ok. The AARP put nothing in my mailbox, sent me no smugly helpful emails. The birthday dinner Dash surprised me with was attended by a few extraordinary friends. We ate and talked and laughed like a normal bunch of people, but as we drove home that night and for the next few days I was struck by how much I felt I owned that normal. At 50, I get to decide what normal is. It's not that I don't care. It's just that I freaking own it.
There is a power in our numerical system that impacts us subconsciously. With regard to age, it “does a number” on our psyches. Our response to different ages is programmed and automatic, almost as if we have secretly agreed on their significance – 2, 16, 21, 65. And 50? 50 is mortality, and it won't be ignored. If I can't let loose at 50, when can I?
C'mon, 50. We're going to have some fun up in here.