I turned fifty last September. A mere half-century. A spring chicken. They say the first sixty years are the hardest. Or is that the first seventy? What with advances in medical technology (for those who can afford it), is eighty the new forty? I should ask my mother. She’s eighty-three and recovering beautifully from surgery for an arthritic knee. Tough old bird, my mom. I should be that robust when I’m her age.
Age hasn’t been a fun subject for me recently. I had no problem turning forty. Forty didn’t feel old. Actually, it was kind of fun. I finally qualified as a “middle-aged crank”—old enough to demand that mannerless, random strangers pick up their litter or put their grocery carts away properly instead of leaving them any old where in the parking lot. “The rules don’t apply to you, do they? Your mother is not here to pick up after you. What, were you born in a barn?” Not that I ever did any of this, but it was amusing to think about. In my real life, I’d been married a decade, just had my second kid, published my first novel and finished my second, and felt like I was hitting my stride. Forty gave me gravitas without making it a synonym for decline.
Fifty is different. Fifty is weird. I bless my friends in their latter fifties or sixties who scoff gently at me when I talk of feeling old. They are dynamos, these women and men. As energetic as any youngster of thirty-something, but with a lot more grit because of the life lessons under their belts. I want to be where they are, aware of their years but not letting it matter a damn. I want it not to matter that, barring extremely good luck in the genetics department, I now have less time remaining to me than I’ve already lived. I’m on the downslope, and all of a sudden it seems there aren’t many years left to accomplish things. Write all those novels, see all those foreign places, learn to speak Gaelic or read Hebrew or play the Celtic harp. Where did the time go? How do I carve out enough of what’s left between writing, earning a living, running the house, being a mom, and everything else on my daily to-do list?
I know why fifty is weird. Our family lost my mother-in-law and my dad, in late 2011 and 2012 respectively. Mama Sylvia right before Thanksgiving, my father two days before Christmas. We’re down by half in our vanguard generation—the parents who stand in the gap between us and death, with our children coming up on the road of life behind us. We still have my mother, and my father-in-law, but I can see myself moving toward the vanguard spot, and I’m not ready. Is anyone, ever?
Part of life is that it moves on. Usually, though, we’re not so aware of how relentless that process is. We bury that knowledge under ordinary joys and concerns, taking each day for granted. Until something happens—a loss, a life-change, a birthday with a certain number attached—and awareness bursts through like light through clouds. “I was blind, but now I see.” Amazing Grace.
Maybe it is an amazing grace, to see that downslope and not be afraid of it. Or to be something else as well. Inspired, energized, courageous. Determined not to drift, to make what we can of our moments and treasure them as they pass. Even the ordinary ones. Maybe especially those.
Okay, fifty. I see your gauntlet now, thrown down at my feet. Time to step forward and pick it up. I hope… oh, I hope I’m ready.
D. M. Pirrone, aka Diane Piron-Gelman, is a writer, audiobook narrator and editor. This is her first personal essay for The Write Room blog. Feel free to check out her author website at www.dmpirrone.net and her personal blog, Word Nerd Notes, at www.wordnrd.wordpress.com.