Later this year I will turn fifty. That seems almost impossible to me, but I imagine that is the way many people feel as they approach fifty. While I sort of celebrated my approach to forty a decade ago, I’ve becoming increasingly wary of birthdays as I get older–my birthdays in particular. These days, my approaching birthday makes me feel uncomfortable, and I’d rather pretend it was just an ordinary day, with no special recognition. Last year, I got my wish in that regard. We drove down to Florida for spring break, and we left on my birthday. I spent ten hours driving from our house to Savannah, Georgia. My family was with me so I wasn’t alone, and we were heading on a break. But there wasn’t a lot of fanfare, and I appreciated that.
I warned Kelly that I didn’t want any fanfare this year for my fiftieth birthday (even the word “fiftieth” is a difficult word to type): no surprises, no big party. I know that fifty is a milestone, and I can appreciate that without a big celebration.
When I was very young, I thought that fifty was impossibly old. My grandfather was 52 years old when I was born. That means that I am nearly two years shy of the age my grandfather was when I emerged into he world. Shakespeare died at 52 and he was considered pretty old at the time. (Did they have big fiftieth birthday bashes in Shakespeare’s time, I wonder?) Now, I keep telling myself that fifty is still young. I told myself the same thing when I turned forty. I imagine that when I turn sixty, I’ll tell myself the same thing. There has to be a point, however, when you can no longer deny your age. Did Betty White consider ninety “still young” when she hit that milestone?
Signs of aging are all around me. I look at my desk and see the medications there (most of them temporary, fortunately). My right knee has been giving me trouble and I’m seeing a doctor this week to figure out what can be done about it. I’ve put on more weight than I am comfortable with because I don’t move around as much as I used to. I tend to feel bad about these things because I know they are not a requirement of age. Satchel Paige played baseball into his fifties. My brother, just two years younger than I am, is probably in the best shape of his life. But age does more than introduce physical decay. There is decay of the will as well. As much as I’d like to get myself into better shape, I can’t quite drum up the willpower to do it.
There are milestone birthdays that I can appreciate. Turning 18 allows one the franchise. Turning 21 you can buy alcohol. Turning 25 makes you eligible to be elected to the House of Representatives. Turning 35 makes you eligible to run for President. Turning 59-1/2 makes one eligible to begin drawing on retirement savings. Turning 62 makes one a senior citizen. There is nothing, that I am aware of, that happens when one turns fifty years old. It is a Hallmark birthday, a half-century mark worthy of a speciality card with the number 50 on it. It represents 7 billion, 480 million miles traveled around the sun.
Apollo 17, the last which landed on the moon, took place late in the year I was born. Turning fifty this year also means passing a sad milestone: the end of 2022 will mark a half century since humanity has been to the moon. Compared to a fiftieth birthday, a new moon landing would really be something worth celebrating.
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