I will turn 50 this year.
Each decade I’ve had the privilege of being an adult, I’ve panicked at around year six or seven in anticipation of the impending change in numerical prefix. I’m going to be thirty. Or forty. And it seemed so much older, always an age that I never thought I would be. I would wring my hands for a couple of years, checking myself in the mirror for crow’s feet or cellulite, as though the act of observation would halt the degeneration of my cellular repair process. But by the time I reached the big day, I had completed my mid-life crisis and had leaned into the new decade. And what my mom told me about her life has always been true to date: each decade has gotten better.
This decade, though, I’ve only considered my sixth decade in brief moments–stealing glances out of the corner of my eye and then quickly turning my attention to whatever else I could. “I’ll deal with that later,” I always thought.
Only I haven’t.
Perhaps my procrastination was a by-product of other factors. The last two years have been a slog. Increased work responsibilities, a few upheavals, a sidelining injury, and nearly non-stop travel for work or family responsibilities have added stressors to the last couple of years, and they have flown by while I dealt with the changes. –Not in a good way; in that way when all the days bleed together and you can’t name a single thing that you have done when people ask what you’ve been up to. Getting by, I think to myself, usually.
I also began to feel my aging. And see it. I’ve gained 25 pounds, and my ankle injury–one that might have sidelined me for a couple of weeks when I was younger–was permanent and required surgery to repair. My cholesterol went up, as did my blood pressure, and I have a waddle. And a wattle.
So, as I slid into 49, wholly unprepared for the new decade, I decided that I would spend 2020 bettering myself. I would lose that weight and get fit and slather myself in collagen-producing moisturizers, and I would hold myself accountable by writing a blog. That’s what this exercise started as–my countdown to FIFTY AND FABULOUS!
Then, on New Year’s Eve, a couple of old friends from college texted me—friends with whom I spent a semester in London when I was a senior. I was reminded of what I was doing that New Year’s Eve so many years ago. We had only just arrived in England and were anxious to see the city. Being young and looking for an adventure, we set out that cold night to explore and find the celebrations. This was long before the London Eye, and Trafalgar Square was the London equivalent of Times Square at that time, so that was our first chosen destination. When we arrived, Trafalgar Square was packed with drunken revelers. The square was impressive at first, but after a bit, I felt like the Griswolds at the Grand Canyon. We wandered around for a while. I recall seeing a scuffle break out and someone shattering beer bottles on the ground and some people climbing on Nelson’s Column. I was anxious from the building energy of the crowd.
A few of us decided to see what else might be going on and left the square around 11. I had loved St. Paul’s Cathedral when I had visited before, so I asked the others if we could go by there, as it wasn’t too far off. When we arrived, we discovered a free service (they were all free back then) for Night’s Watch, a special midnight service on New Year’s Eve. We went inside and took seats on folding chairs that had been set up in a circle in the nave. The Salvation Army band was playing. We sang a few hymns and read from the Book of Common Prayer, and just before midnight, they shut off all the lights, and we sat in silence. As the clock struck midnight, I remember hearing the crowds and the fireworks and the bells toll as though from a great distance, while inside an enormous peace settled over us in the cocoon of the quiet Cathedral. It is my favorite New Year’s Eve memory. It seems like it was yesterday.
As I thought of this memory on December 31, 2019, I realized that I am closer in time to the age of 75 than I am to that moment in St. Paul’s Cathedral. And that, if I make it to 75, I will be just as surprised to note how quickly the time passed between New Year’s Eve 2019 and New Year’s Eve 2044.
In that moment, my focus about my approach to my fiftieth birthday changed. I realized that I had used up roughly 3,383 of 3,653 days in my 40s. I only had two hundred and seventy days until my fiftieth birthday.
I’ve loved my forties. I traveled often and visited new and old places, got married, changed career paths, became somewhat fluent in French, re-learned how to ride a bicycle and learned I could ride it 70 miles in one stretch, and discovered the freedom of not worrying quite as much about what other people think. I have also buried beloved pets and a couple of human friends, watched as friends lost parents and spouses and children, and I increasingly felt the importance of the little moments in life, which are really the big moments, only you just don’t know it until later. I have felt the joy of the wisdom that comes with time and experience.
Although I have every intention of losing weight and returning to fitness and moisturizing the hell out of my face, the purpose of this blog now is to remind me of the importance of time, to hold me accountable for the days I have left in my forties, to recognize those little important moments, to remind me that every minute is an opportunity, and to find those peaceful moments in the chaos. And that I don’t have to wait until then to be fabulous.