Here’s what I know about careening toward 50, the age I will reach in less than a month:
You walk by a mirror and wonder just who the hell put an old lady costume on your 36-year-old self.
If you are one of the handful of readers for whom 30 is a distant, looming part of the future and you are thinking that, whoa, 36 sounds pretty old all by itself, then just file this whole thing away for future reference and hope that you get here eventually. Irrespective of the wrinkles and sagging fanny, getting older is still preferable to the alternative, that alternative being, namely, dying.
There are a few other things I know about reaching the half century mark, some of which are more palatable than others, one of which is that 50 is definitely not 40. By 40 you’ve likely figured out who you are. By 50 you’ve likely figured out who everyone else is and that fewer of them are really with you for the long haul.
By 40, I think, you either are or are not the person willing to say, discreetly but directly, “you have spinach in your teeth.” By 50 you know who will say it to you and whether they’re motivated by protecting your welfare or poking at your self-confidence. It’s easier at 50 to know how to handle people who fall into the latter category, but no less disappointing than it was at 15 to accept that not everyone is your friend.
Sometime around 50 you’ll strip your youth of its haze, whether happy or sad, and come to accept your past as simply past. Also that the real Prince (or Princess) Charming might be hairy or scarred or balding but never, ever mean.
You’ll know who wears a twirly party hat in good fun and who’s still training as a method actor. You’ll know, with greater clarity than before, how to recognize one of your own. In my case these are the people who’ve used black Sharpies to cover bleach spots and given presentations wearing mismatched shoes. By 50 you know you must protect these companions to the bitter end.
It’s possible, though not given, that by 50 your knees and knuckles and neck will ache, and that better living through chemistry comes to mean something entirely different to you now.
It’s probable, though certain, that a young person will treat you as a doddering old fool. This is most likely in an Apple store or Claire’s, although it’s equally possible from a telephone software technician who can’t see your grey hair but knows your birth date. Also from your children, who will be quick to boast that they could get a much higher score on that Lumosity speed match game than you can.
You’ll think more carefully, perhaps, about what to do with what’s left, knowing from statistics that it’s likely shorter than what’s behind. But this is a weighty thought, and the very last thing you want at 50 is extra weight. Trust me on this, if nothing else, because, well, #knees and #cholesterol.
By 50, if you’re lucky, you’ll know in your heart that life is a jumble of happiness and depression, that the glass is sometimes half full and others half empty, or maybe, to an engineer, just poorly designed.
You might decide, by 50, that smart trumps pretty and kind trumps everything. Not everyone will reach this decision. This is the thing, above all, that by 50 you’ll know absolutely.
Not everyone will decide to gaze at the moon or remember how to giggle or dance in the kitchen to a 70s soundtrack. Not everyone will have a concrete foundation but an open mind and heart. Not everyone will strive to forgive and forget, or to keep growing and learning and letting go of unimportant things.
But you will, if you choose to. So, I hope, will I.