Wednesday, October 06, 2010

[Rant] 50

50: Fifty doesn't exactly sneak up and bite you in the ass. It's a slow train coming that you first see about four years earlier, when you can no longer claim to be in your early forties. It's just a number, right? That what you're supposed to say. But surprisingly, that's how it feels -- physically anyway.

I was thinking about running and fitness. Two days before my birthday I was up on Mackinac Island running in an 8-mile race. (The circumference of Mackinac is 8-miles so it's one loop of the island.) Eight miles is a long distance for me. I'm no great runner -- not even a very good runner. I would guess 8-10 miles is about where running turns from a fitness challenge to a pain endurance challenge. For me it's about fitness, so I'll stick to the middle distances. You couple this with my weekly mile swim and a 30-mile bike ride in good weather, then throw in that I weigh less now than any time since I was in college, and I can honestly say the cliche applies to me: I'm in the best shape of my life (although I should probably get a doctor to confirm that).

Still, healthy or not, it is impossible to be fifty years old and not face the likely fact that you have more years behind you than ahead. Again, this is not a bomb dropped from out of nowhere. It's just something that builds up over time. It presents itself by causing you great consternation over life changes that you previously took in stride. For example: Someone I care about very deeply recently moved away to New York -- really it was just the most recent and most heart-breaking of many friends who have moved on. When you are younger you don't have the fear that the good things in your life are gone forever. You always feel like there is a chance to recapture them, to experience more. It was similar when my beloved Miss Anna moved off to college. I have had some truly joyous times with her and her mother, traveling around, meeting up with them all over the country and beyond. Even though we all knew the time would come when it would end, it's still a sorrowful thing to face.

The question that manifests: "Is that all there is?" Not asked in the sense of disappointment and disillusionment with how life has turned out. Just the opposite, in fact. Said out of fear that the best times may be gone, never to return. You just don't see anything like those cherished moments of real joy in the future. "Is that it? Don't I get more?"

Fortunately your intellect, your sense of reason, guides you to keep such fears under control. Giving in to despair makes it self-fulfilling. Life is still happening even if you don't see it going on. Really, there is no alternative but to continue working your way through the world and hope for more.

You also have perspective on your side. Twenty-five years ago, I was a bartender at a marginal chain restaurant. All my friends were starting to get real grown up careers, settling themselves into corporations and marriages and mortgages. I was staying up until all hours, carousing with my coworkers, and generally being a complete wastrel. I would run into my friends and feel somewhat embarrassed about the state of my life and how I had no design or was making no progress.

Of course, my life subsequently unfolded in such a way to make me feel phenomenally lucky, and as I look back on those years of slackerdom, I don't really regret them at all. In fact, for all the subliminal pain and worry, I certainly wouldn't trade them for five more years on my career now. I can't imagine why I wasn't reveling in the uncomplicated pleasures of life at the time. But when living it, I felt like a pathetic failure. So with that perspective, I can anticipate myself at age 75 thinking back to that wonderful time of my life when I was fifty, and healthy enough, and wealthy enough, and wise enough to appreciate what I had, even while pining over my losses.

Bottom line: I'm 50. It hurts a bit, but I'll live.