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Aging Gracefully

Last January I celebrated my 50th birthday. It was traumatic. 50!!! My 21st birthday was buried under caring for 2 children under 2. My 30th gave me pause but I was busy being a mom. Turning 40 was when my life started to exist beyond motherhood. That was the decade I went back to school and got my bachelor’s and then master’s degrees. That was a productive decade. But then I turned 50. 50!!!!! For those in the back: FIFTY!!!! In your 20’s and 30’s, you’re young. Your life is ahead of you, full of promise and possibilities. You turn 40 and you look at life differently. You start thinking in terms of impact. What have I done with my life? But when you turn 50, it’s easy to start looking at the rest of your life as a downhill slide. You’re not done – not by a long shot – but you’ve got as much, if not more, time behind you than ahead of you.

So, as I countdown the days to 51, I find myself searching for that impact. I’ve been on this earth for 50 years, what have I contributed? How have I grown? Have I made a difference? I like to think I have. I like to think that my life on earth has enriched it in some way. I’ve raised 2 children who are now in their 30’s successfully navigating their own journeys. My life has been a challenge, but I’ve also been blessed. I’ve been married for 32 years to my soulmate who loves me despite my craziness. I have friends who love me, some who’ve known me since I was 4, and who, after all our years of escapades and shenanigans, we still laugh together over all the memories.

My work life has zig zagged all over the map as I tried to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I now have challenging and rewarding work, and I finally feel like I’m doing something I can see myself doing until I retire.

In the midst of it all, though I ask myself, “Have I made a difference?” I’m likely past the half-way point of my life. My wife and I are starting to talk about retirement plans, goals and dreams. I look forward to spending time travelling and visiting future grandchildren. As I look at my life through the lenses of our consumer culture, it’s easy to look down on my life. I spent 20 years raising children instead of climbing the corporate ladder. School waited until I could concentrate on my education rather than my children’s.

Sometimes I feel more defined by my struggles than my successes. I’ve battled physical, mental and psychological illnesses. I’m a fighter but I’ve been knocked on my a** more than a few times. As I struggle each time to stand up again, I ask myself, “why? What do I gain by continuing the fight?" When I look back over the last 50 years, the ups and downs, the insane with the sane, has all it been worth it?

I may not be where I dreamt I would be. The grey roots show and the arthritis makes me slow. When I look into the mirror I see the extra weight I carry, my stretch marks, baggy skin and wrinkles staring back at me. My wisdom has come at a price. Regrets haunt me. I look sadly at the choices I’ve made and roads I’ve travelled. I’ve made decisions in the past I would never consider making with the knowledge I have now. As I await turning 51, the years relentlessly move forward, every week passing faster than the one before. It’s at this time I need to change my perspective, focusing less on the dashed dreams and instead, reveling in the memories. I’ll trade regrets for accomplishments, disappointments for blessings. I hope I learn to appreciate the blessings of the years gained instead of being wrapped up in the losses. I’m not famous or wealthy but I am loved and cared for. For now, that’s enough. Bring on 60!

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