Upon Turning Fifty

Half a century, and finally,
What I feel is what I say and
What I say is what I mean.

What I mean is that others, so used
to my gargantuan efforts to be good,
Don’t understand my efforts to be real.
They find me coming up short.

From the poem, “Crossing Some Ocean in Myself”, by Mark Nepo

Click to listen to a reading of the entire poem

From Mark Nepo’s book, The Way Under the Way: The Place of True Meeting

Today is my 50th birthday and while some bemoan the significant birthday milestones after the 30s are over, I enjoy the fact that I’m crossing this threshold. It can be tough to do, as I discovered earlier last week when I received my first “birthday card” from the AARP, inviting me to join their exclusive club for discounts on all the things older people apparently want to buy. My first reaction was, “Hell no, throw that in the trash.” But then I thought, “Well hold on, how much of a discount am I gonna get?” So thank you, AARP, for reminding me of my elite status as someone who has survived to their fiftieth birthday.

While the conventional jokes about age will never go away, I know that my younger years were filled with so many bad decisions, poor ways of relating to others, dualistic thinking, and blind allegiances, that I prefer to enjoy the present and consider the possibilities of the future. The last 15 years have truly been the most difficult but also the most rewarding. A second chance at marriage, kids we adore, financial ups and downs and various victories and defeats have left me full of gratitude for the life I have now.

At fifty years old I don’t “feel old”, even if I’m not as spry as I used to be. There is a different quality to the strength one can have at this age, physically and otherwise. In my Jiu Jitsu classes, we call that “old man strength”. There is an enduring quality to it, even if the quickness has leveled off. I like this about myself and want to cultivate it further in my physical body but also in my mind.

Portrait at 50, for those who haven’t seen my face in a while

As some forthcoming blog posts will explore, so much has changed within me. It’s taken so long to get to a point where I am almost comfortable in my own skin and feel the freedom to have my own voice. It’s taken so long to learn how to give others the freedom to do the same. Yet I continue to stumble in both of those efforts at times and despair settles in at those moments and holds my attention. Instead of brushing it away and giving myself a pep talk, I am seeing how important despair can be as a teacher. It comes to strengthen us and shine a light on realities we wish not to face. This is not an insight that comes easily, especially when we are young.

Along with the despair that is inherent in life, I also welcome hope as I look ahead and imagine what might be. With so much personal growth and change in the last ten years, I know that there are possibilities I haven’t yet considered or experienced and this serves to keep my mind open.

So I celebrate this milestone, not because I feel nostalgic, but because I am learning that both hope and despair have power to transform me as I accept the past, live in the present, and welcome the future.

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