I’m at that age, fifty-one as of yesterday, where two main things are in play. First, I gained a lot of perspective. I’ve been through so many situations, met so many people, and have failed more times than I can count, that I finally get it. I understand life, and what we’re supposed to do, and how I can maneuver through it in a relatively peaceful existence, helping others find peace, steering clear of conflict. I’ve managed to gain the confidence needed to push away people who upset me, be it those I’m close to, or those on social media whose sole purpose seems to be crying out at the injustices of the world. I’m a glass half full type, and will always see humanity and the U.S. and the world at large, as inhabited by good people with good intentions. And I try to push that agenda: be nice. I’m in a good place. A happy place. Perspective has a lot to do with it but it’s also where my choices have landed me. I feel like I’m coasting, drifting along happy on the river of life, a leaf on its waters, enjoying the sun’s warmth, and the ebb and flow of the current.
The second thing that I am encountering, is that at fifty-one I’m at the age where people around me are dying. In February my ex mother-in-law passed away. A couple of weeks ago my ex father-in-law followed suit. He’d been sick for sometime but still. They were only on their seventies which is not old, and not too far fifty-one. A couple of months ago I was shocked and saddened to discover one of my best friends from middle and high school, and early twenties, died suddenly. I don’t know how, or what happened but her husband passed just a year before and she left behind a daughter Ivy’s age and another in high school. Others I know have been diagnosed with cancer, others have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, pre-diabetes. Or all those things. It’s scary knowing that at this juncture, the people I know now may not be here forever.
Lots of people, most probably, have experienced death in loved ones. I’ve been lucky enough to avoid it mostly except for grandparents and a few others. My parents and aunts and uncles and cousins and friends…they’re all still here. The people who have passed in the last year, the in-laws and a friend of ours in his seventies had long-term health issues made worse or caused by smoking. But when my high school friend passed away, a woman just a few months older than me, it was a shock. That could be me. Could be any of us.
At fifty-one, though I’m healthy, I feel like any day could be the last day. I’m not being maudlin, just realistic. I could have choked to death on a piece of candy as a young child, or been electrocuted, but someone saved me. I could have died in a head on collision on the freeway at twenty-three, but even with no seatbelts I walked away with chipped teeth. With all the shootings and car accidents and illnesses, on the one hand I am grateful every day to have another day to cruise down the river and enjoy the sunshine. On the other hand, I know I don’t have forever.
I think Ryan went through something like this when he turned fifty-five. That was his age of reckoning. We met up with a friend recently who said because she and her husband didn’t have kids, they wondered what to do with all their expensive books when they someday passed. At twenty and thirty and forty years old, you’re in acquisition mode. Filling your life with things that bring you joy. And then you get here and start wondering what will happen to everything when you go, and you start thinking maybe you can stop adding more stuff and start taking away, or at the very least, accept that when you go, others may not treasure your treasures the way you did.
It may seem like I’m writing this, terrified of death, or the end, or questioning what it all meant. Not at all. I really like life. I’ve always liked it but it’s only the last year or two that it’s…dare I say, easy. Seamless.
When I used to picture how I’d end up, it was like this. I’ve got a loving partner, a wonderful daughter, good, genuine friends, a cozy house, a reliable car, a job that I miss doing when I’m on vacation, a colorful yard filled with bright greens and reds and yellows that epitomize vibrancy and life.
My dogs and old cat gather around for their handfuls of heart and blood pressure and dementia pills. But they too are filled with love and life and not thinking of when it’ll be over, just really excited every day that they get to wake up and run around and cuddle. It’s a simple and a good philosophy. When I was younger, I was always questioning everything, digging deep into what was really there, what could happen. Now I see life with all its beauty, as it is. Today.
You can look at a garden and see wildflowers swaying in the wind, picturing gophers below the surface chomping grass to feed their families, and worms, spiders, and caterpillars all cohabitating, all part of the process that makes the garden. You can smell the flowers and listen to the buzzing of the bees. You can touch the velvety smooth petals, and feel the powdery dirt between your toes. The sky is bright blue and the blazing sun warms you, just enough. And you can be thankful that you get to be a part of it all, that you are lucky enough to be immersed in such a perfect existence.
Or you can obsess about why others don’t think like you, or worship the same God/god or vote the same way, or discipline their children the same or eat meat or not eat meat. And you can tear yourself apart with anger at how different everyone is from you, and agonize over what will happen if everyone isn’t like you, if they choose other paths or love differently.
I choose option one. To just live as I am, in the company of others who are not like I am. To seek peace and those who are peaceful, or those who strive for peace.
At fifty-one, I appreciate every moment, every raindrop, every ant in the cat food, every gopher hole, and artist who has tried and succeeded or tried and failed because it’s all part of life. And this life is a good one. I hope I get a lot more years, and that those around me do too. But mostly I hope that everyone around me can see that indeed, it is a wonderful world, that time must be cherished, and that the best we can do is to see the beauty in everything. Ivy has a tattoo that says Dwell on the beauty of life. There’s no simpler way to say it than that. Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars and see yourself running with them. Thank you, Marcus Aurelius, and thank you to the universe for giving me another year.
Happy birthday to me,