When my grandmother turned 75, she told me that for the first time in her life, she felt like she might be getting old. This was 25 years ago when the typical lifespan of a female was 72 years old.
I remember thinking two things when she made that statement. The first — how weird for an old person not to feel old, and the second — maybe 75 isn’t that old after all.
For me, it was a life-altering moment.
I was just about to graduate college and looking forward, wondering where I was going then and where I would be in the future. I felt like I was being thrown out into the real world and for the first time, I would be totally responsible for taking care of myself and I wasn’t sure I knew how. Then Grandma said her thing and suddenly I saw that I didn’t have to figure it all out right away. The pressure to get a good job, to write the novel I was supposed to write, to get married and have children dissipated. Heck, I had at least 60 more years to go before my descent would begin.
And I’ve continued to believe. Despite all of the struggles, all the aches and pains, all the disappointments I’ve had over the years (good things have happened too :)), I’ve never stopped thinking that I wouldn’t feel old until at the very earliest, 75 years old.
Every February for the last ten or so years, five friends and I go out to celebrate our birthdays (well one friend is born in June but we let her come because her husband’s birthday is in February and we like her company). Planning the night out is always an ordeal because six women with jobs and families and crazy schedules can’t always find an evening in February when we all are free. But it’s a favorite night for all of us so we do what we can to make it happen and always manage to succeed.
This year we waited until the 29th to have our annual celebration. I just got home a few minutes ago.
At the end of the meal, as we were waiting for the waiter to return with our bill, I asked my friends for ideas to write about for this blog post. One friend said that I should talk about birthdays. Okay, I thought, but what about birthdays?
Then she told a story about bumping into a friend at her son’s basketball game the night before. She knew that he had turned 50 a few days earlier, so she wished him happy birthday and asked him how he was settling in to his fifties. According to my friend, he was all smiles but his wife, who was seated beside him in the bleachers, was frowning and blurted out something negative about how could you settle into something as terrible as turning 50 years old. The birthday boy’s wife sounded angry, irritated that somebody could suggest that turning 50 might be a good thing.
At first glance, you might think my friend is a surface person. From head-to-toe, she is put together, all of the time. She’s fit, dresses well, and has a beautiful face and figure. But looks can be deceiving. My friend has a lot going on inside her head and she articulates her thoughts better than most people I know.
The way my friend described it, this woman’s remark threw her off-guard. And yet, in typical form, instead of flailing around for a response, she simply stated what rose up in her mind, and my guess is that she didn’t stumble as she spoke. She told the woman that she thought getting older was a good thing. You become more of who you are with each year and she has no interest in going backward. Then she told her (and us) about how one of her uncles died suddenly when he was 49 years old. He left his wife and three pre-teen and teenaged children. His death deeply affected my friend, who was older than her cousins but only by a few years.
For her, It was a life-altering moment.
She realized that her uncle would never see his boys grow up; he would never walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding; he would not grow old with his wife. And ever since then, she’s thought that anybody who turns fifty or fifty-one or fifty-two is lucky. Every year is a blessing. Every year past 49 is another year to watch your children grow, to be there to see them through proud and difficult times, to spend quality time with your spouse and your friends and your family and yourself.
My friend’s lesson may have come in the form of an unfortunate death while mine came in the form of a fully-realized life, but we both had life-altering moments that brought us to the same place. Life is an amazing gift. If we spend our time worrying about what we no longer are or what we might become, we miss out on who we are and how much there is to learn each day.
At that basketball game, my friend told the unhappy woman that she was proud of her age and that she would tell anybody that she is now 46. Only four more years until she gets to be 50.
I have only three more years until fifty. And 28 more years before I might start to feel old.
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