“Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength,” asserted Betty Friedan. A few months ago I celebrated my 49th birthday, and it ended up being one of the most joyful I can remember. A milestone evocative of Friedan’s quote.
There was no grand celebration, no wrapped presents, not even a cake. Instead, the day was filled with small, spontaneous moments of generosity and warmth – from students at the school where I work wishing me a happy birthday to a card from coworkers slipped into my mailbox. And yes, a flurry of celebratory posts from my Facebook network. A dear friend had left a message on my cell phone, too. Another friend surprised me by stopping up in my office to give me a hug and wish me well. But the climax of the day? Being treated to dinner by my teenage daughter. She apologized for not getting me a present, but I assured her that the most treasured gift was the opportunity to enjoy her company over a meal.
As the years wear on, I know that getting older won’t be such an easy process. I can already attest to knees that can’t maneuver lunges at the gym anymore, as well as the occasional wiry white hair that chooses to go its own way amid the dark strands. But I wouldn’t trade the superficial perks of youth for the wisdom and clarity that can only come from living a long and authentic life – and learning from all the adventures and mistakes along the way.
Why do we put such a premium on youth anyway? Why do we let magazine covers and TV commercials dictate what we’re supposed to look like and how we’re supposed to feel?
I am so relieved not to be living according to someone else’s expectations anymore.
There’s another reason I am grateful for each year that comes along to mark the passage of time. More than 45 years ago, a young mother and father were at Children’s Hospital, where they were told to say goodbye to their infant daughter, who’d been born with a congenital heart defect. Thanks to modern medicine, a gifted surgeon, and the love of family and friends, I beat the odds and can blog about the joys of marking my 49th birthday.
“To everything there is a season,” the scriptures and song tell us. I know that now that I’ve passed the illusory midpoint, my body will begin to slow down and the aging process will take its toll. I like to joke that our bodies are like cars. We can be faithful to our regular tune-ups, but ultimately, the total mileage is something we can’t predict. No, despite all the best quotes from all the most inspirational people, aging will become an increasingly less graceful endeavor. My mother just turned 81, and although she hardly looks her age, she’s had her share of health issues, which only remind all of us of her – and our – mortality.
I occasionally think ahead to next year’s half-century mark. What the hell, maybe I’ll break with my own tradition and throw a huge party. You in?