Forty is the new thirty sounded like marketing, but marketing you could believe. Fifty is the new thirty-five (as my friend said me to last night) sounds like snakeoil salesmanship. Somehow fifty is not just a number, it’s different. It’s new uncharted territory.
As I grew up my father used to tell me that your fifties are the minefield of your life. Since, like any headstrong kid, I rarely listened I now find myself, on the morning of my 50th birthday, thinking about what he really meant.
He’s right in that there are new, dangerous mines all around. Maybe they were around all along and I was just too busy working and raising a family to notice; maybe I can see them now because I am (in theory) more evolved and able to handle what they mean. Either way, I see them now more clearly than ever and I have to decide what to do and think about them.
The mines come in many different shapes, sizes and strengths in their ability to wound me. Elderly beloved parents getting ill. Dear friends my age fighting – and sometimes losing to – cancer. Children leaving home (wait… is this bad?). The road warrior workstyle not being as easy as it once was. Facing serious illness for the first time and learning to live with it. More than one pair of close friends getting divorced as the husband leaves the wife for a younger woman. The endless, relentless pull of gravity on my body and wrinkles on my neck. And the many unspoken fears that come with now knowing I am not a vampire and so sadly not immortal.
So how to deal? Clearly only a healthy dose of humor and self-depreciation is going to get me through this.
My eldest leaving for college will mean I get my kitchen back – hurray! And won’t find dirty laundry on the bathroom floor every day. I ask my husband will I miss her – he laughs and says “yes, because you’ll forget what the kitchen looked like tonight”.
There is no funny way to get through losing family and friends, except to be sure to remember all the incredibly ridiculous things we did together and how funny they were at the time. And to hug my parents tightly every time I see them.
The aging body is indeed a humorous thing. It’s a tragedy so profound it turns into a comedy. Laughter is the only cure. Creams, injections, workouts, hair color all hold it at bay but we are like King Canute on the shore… the sea is going to come in no matter what we do. We worship youth in our society, especially in women, My male, single friends prefer younger women, one of my girlfriends turning fifty this year told me women become invisible over fifty. But not every woman right? Not women who work and play hard, wear bright colors and laugh most of the time — surely? I know my close friends (ladies you know who you are) are not invisible so I’ll follow their lead with a smile and a sense of humor and red somewhere on my body.
I feel great about turning fifty really. Every minute with the people I love is so sweet. I am here for my friends as they struggle with divorce and loss. Every new wrinkle means I am still alive. And when all else fails I’ll just go out and dance.