I turned 50 this week. The statement sits on the page like an awkward pause, unwieldy despite being only five words long. You have no idea how long I’ve just spent staring at it. One of the blessings of the written word, for which, you can be thankful.
I remember writing a newsletter piece, breezy and upbeat, if you can imagine such a thing from me, about turning forty. Then, I was in a new parish, newly re-married, we’d just bought a house, my sons were finally living with us, and I was feeling the flush of new beginnings.
So far, turning fifty has none of that. At fifty, there is a vague sense of foreboding. A panic overwhelming and futile, like remembering you left the water running…twenty years ago. How much of this is actually turning fifty and how much is the present context, who knows?
I do know there was still a sense of anticipation that went with turning forty. Forty was the unconscious bar I’d set for myself in my twenties. I was under the crazy impression that most of the questions and apprehensions of adulthood would be ironed out by then.
Yes, the missing letters on the puzzle would be turned over, the vowels bought and paid for, and I’d have a pretty good handle on the answer. All that’s left was spinning the wheel and wracking up big numbers. Fifty is the realization that the vowels mean nothing, because the puzzle is in Polish, and you still haven’t a clue.
At fifty, the flaw of your life plan suddenly dawns on you. You never really thought ahead this far. Until now, everything after forty was a vague, emotional etcetera. Now at fifty, the after thought becomes the starting point. Ground Five-Zero. Fifty is the breath drawn before every word, the finger poised above the keys on the keyboard. Here you begin to sense the limits the way an outfielder chasing down a fly ball senses the looming centerfield fence.
Macabre little equations keep edging into my thoughts. I find myself trying to calculate the time I might have left. 20 years, maybe 30---maybe 10? That’s roughly the amount of time between my birth and my first call, or roughly the amount of time we’ve been married.
Fifty brings with it a new sense of urgency and a strange complacency as well. I have less to prove at fifty. My impulsive and idealistic schemes have a certain gravitas. I am content to let myself be. In a way I suppose, I have become less important. To sense the limits of life is also to sense the vastness of it as well. There is something irrefutable about getting this far, and of still being at it; whatever it is.