Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Fiftyish Philosophy

Forty is not scary…in fact, it’s nearly the perfect age. You’ve survived childhood, navigated the pitfalls of young adulthood, and arrived at an age where you can claim a certain amount of wisdom, of savoir faire; yet you are not old. Not young anymore, but not old. Mature, like a fine wine or a piquant cheese. You can confidently assert that your page is merely half-written. After all, look at all the eighty-year-olds who are still vital and active; traveling the world, dancing ‘til dawn, towing the grandkids and great-grandkids off to Disneyland.

After forty, however, you realize that something bizarre has happened to the passage of time. You have not gone over a hill, you have stepped off the edge of a cliff, and are now hurtling toward fifty. Forty-two, forty-five, forty-eight, pass in a blur. Fifty roars up from the horizon and is upon you before you can blink. All at once, you bump up against the realization that you do not know too many 100-year-olds who are enjoying anything you would recognize as a quality of life. Okay…none. You don’t personally know, or know of, any centenarians who are so blessed. You’ve finally reached the age when you must reluctantly concede that you are well into the second half of your life.

And so, as your half-century mark approaches, arrives, and recedes fleetly into the past, you find yourself prone to looking backward with more regularity, and much more fondness, than you anticipate the future. The trick is to find the balance between paying short, happy visits to the past, and putting down permanent roots there. The temptation to pick a decade, go back to it and just take up residence is strong. Sometimes, it’s hard to resist the weight of all those years pulling you back to happier times, easier times, reckless times; when the laughter and love seemed to come without a cost. When you didn’t know enough to really savor every moment, because it never occurred to you that those moments might be finite.

But what could be sadder, and more wasteful, than retreating into the past to escape the future? The appeal is undeniable. There is too much of the Great Unknown, almost close enough to touch, in the future when you’re fifty. The past seems infinitely safer. There is no challenge, and a great deal of comfort, in turning around and walking back to where you’ve been. But is that really how you are meant to spend the last priceless decades you are allotted in this life? Shouldn’t you keep going forward, fully inhaling every precious breath, reaching out, yanking the moments and wringing every drop of adventure from them? Or do you spit in the Creator’s eye, slink backward, plop yourself down and say, "I’m done. Come and get me when it’s time."

As for me, I can neither completely commit to grabbing the gusto, nor retreat to a place of comfort to wait it out. I wander back, sit and rest for a time; but just long enough to build strength for continuing the journey. Because deep in my soul, I know that ahead, into the future, is the only direction to take. I simply will not give back those years that are held in store just for me. That would be the ultimate sin, for which there cannot be, should not be, any forgiveness in the heart of the Universe. Live what is given you…die with one arm hugging every precious moment you've been granted, and the other outstretched, reaching for more.


  1. What an absolutely beautiful sentiment.  I see this as the consummate expression of your journal.  The piece de resistance if you will.  I'm printing this out and keeping it handy to refer to when I look at my fifties with anything less than enthusiasm.  Thank you.


  2. this:

    When you didn’t know enough to really savor every moment, because it never occurred to you that those moments might be finite.

    and then this:

    Live what is given you....die with your hand outstretched, reaching for more.

    I caught my breath as you do so often when reading things I write.  I nodded my head until my neck hurt.  (I wondered if maybe I am really fifty...) And I couldn't have agreed with you more.

    I will die wanting MORE...always wanting more.  I want my last words to be:

    Is that all?


    Your female soulmate and friend.

  3. Oh my.  Did you just crawl in my head, rummage around in there, and come out just to write this entry for me??  I feel so honored!  hee   Actually, you really did hit about every nail there is to hit in my half a decade life.  I do find myself retreating back to "the old days" as my 21 year old daughter is wont to say.  Sometimes it brings me comfort, but most times it makes me sad, because I start doing that, "If I only knew then what I know now!" thing.  I am 52 and in good health.  I am a surviver of the 60's and 70's and a cancer survivor.  I try to live one day at a time, but it sure would be nice to be able to look happily into the future.  I find that so hard to do.  I wish I could though.
    I loved your entry.  You wrote exactly what I feel, but could never put so eloquently into words!


  4. This entry was beautiful.  I could write paragraphs on how this touched me, but I will condense and say, " Every one should read this.  It holds wisdom for all of us!"  Pennie

  5. we are so on the same page here!
    i really needed to hear what you are saying.
    I have never been weird about my age, but 50 just sounds so damn old!
    I was thinking the same thing, I can't even call my journal Midlife Musings anymore!

  6. I've never suffered fools gladly and now that I'm the north side of the big 50 myself I find I have much less patience with some things than before. I find myself wanting to say things like "please get to the point. I only have so many sunsets, sunrises, cats to pet, friends to e-mail, nephews to hug left and I'm missing something. So lead, follow or please go enjoy a sunrise of your own." Even better come enjoy mine.


  7. Duuuuuuust...in the wiiiind. All we are is dust in the wiiiiiiiiiiiind.

  8.  You really make fifty not so scary for someone who hated the thought of turning 40!

  9. Wow Lisa, what an inspiring essay!  You make me want to go out and do something good and important right this minute.  lol  

    Well, I'm nearly 35.  I'm still not sure what to think about 40.  But I guess we just take it all in our own individual ways.  I want to be as optimistic as you are. :-)

  10. What a beautiful entry.  I've just turned 56, and often I can't believe it, although my KNEES believe it every day (*groan*creak*).  Nevertheless, at this age, I often think of Robert Browning's words:

    Grow old along with me!
    The best is yet to be,
    The last of life, for which the first was made...

    That's true, I think.  



  12. hey now.... I get mail from them..... ALL the time.

  13. LOVE the last sentance!  Perfect!

  14. its sort of like the concept my Mom instilled in me ... "it's not going to change, so you might as well embrace it, like it, enjoy it however you can, because THAT is just how it is..."

    Sort of applies to life. Though I think when she imparted that wisdom on me, I was whining about birth order or something trivial (I remember I was a teenager ...)

    This was a great entry! I really agree with it, nice to hear the positive side of getting old. I am sort of glad to be here in my 40's, too. I like it here.

    ~ Karyn

  15. Does this mean you'll soon be changing the title of your J to "**Came*** to terms?"

    Wonderfully said!

    I've always looked to the future, or maybe pushed speedingly toward it. I want to learn to stop and look around today. :-) ---Robbie

  16. I understand just how you feel.  I have been there, thought that, still thinking a lot of those things.  I just had to write, though, and say that there is a lot of living left to do.  And a lot of "firsts" to be had.  I am 63 and although I am not happy to relate that number, I guess I am going to be thinking that looks pretty good by the time I am 73.  I was divorced at 55 (after 31 years) and bought a house at 62 (took me a few years to get the courage up to do it alone) and have been on more vacations/adventures than when I was married.  Not sure what I'm going to try next, but there is always something new to look forward to.  I never want to go forward in age but I don't want to go backwards in wisdom.  So I just always hope that "now" lasts awhile, but when it is "then", I hope I will be likeing that too. Guess that will be up to me to make it so.

  17. I turned 40 last wek.  Thanks for the words of wisdom, I needed that!


  18. A valuable reflection on "middle" age.  I certainly agree that we it does no good to hold onto the past.  Nor does it do any good to be fearful of the future, and yet...

    I love how in ON GOLDEN POND how Fonda reflects on the absurdity of what we call middle age.  If 50 is middle age, then that means will will live to be 100.  In reality, 40 (or less) is really middle age.  But who wants to admit it?  We call that the "prime of life"!  :-)

  19. Very thought provoking entry, especially since I have been grappling with my own mortality and test results and surgeries...I think having a baby at 42 has kept me rather young...but then, I was always old for my age...

  20. I'm only 36..past couple years I've been feeling "old" and that "life" is getting by without me. "The world doesn't care" I'd complain.  After reading this entry I realized I'm holding on to the past way too long-- I'd forgotten to appreciate living in the now.
    Thank you!
    Gem :-)