Celebrate Turning 50
Going Up In Flames
Since the day I turned 49, I've found myself staring down the barrel of 50, doing all of those things I always said I'd never do. You know what I mean. Questioning the value of half a century of consuming precious oxygen from the shrinking polar ice cap, and wondering what I should do for the rest of whatever's actually left of my earthly existence. I don't even want to talk about worrying about the extra 30 pounds I'm carrying or the age spots, wrinkles, crinkles and the way my skin resembles that of a plucked chicken if you rub it just so. If I feel this way at my age, how in the world can my parents handle being in their mid- to upper 70s?
I admit that I failed to exercise such introspection during my coming-of-age years. (Although aren't we always technically coming of one age or another, unless we're dead?) Those other milestone birthdays weren't so terrible -- 30, 40. But 50 is apparently going to be "the one" for this girl. Er, woman. Instead of enjoying the benefits of the last year in my 40s, I started making plans for the next decade. At the tender age of 48, I found myself divorced and starting over. So, I did what any woman in my position would do. I bought an Italian-style farmhouse that's older than my native country and relocated to a country most Americans know little if anything about; Slovenia. I started building a new life in Europe while keeping one foot in the best parts of my former life, because you're never too old for a safety net. I started a new romance. I started learning a new and incredibly difficult language and immersing myself in a very different culture. I keep telling myself that all of this has been my master plan for my entire life.
Life should be an adventure and turning 50 and every year after that is part of that adventure. I refuse to succumb to being older than dirt, to seeing the Grim Reaper around every corner or to take a dose of Geritol every day. Each of us should be living every day to its fullest. Of course, we thought that was a stupid saying when we were in our teens and 20s because we thought we were living life to the fullest. Only later, through the viewfinder that only advancing age can provide, did we recognize that you can't live life to its fullest when you can sleep until noon and did every time you had the chance. No, it's when you start seeing your friends and family die that you really start to grasp that saying's true meaning. That's why I started making plans for the 50th anniversary of my birth, which is the absolutely, positively fabulous way they talk about birthdays in Europe.
First, I decided to simplify my life. Not just reducing my carbon footprint, but getting rid of the crap we all accumulate during our first 50 years. Admittedly, being forced to divide your worldly possessions with an ex-spouse, boxing up what remains, and moving to a tiny old house on another continent will precipitate such simplicity. But I could have stuck everything into storage and left it behind for one of my siblings or their kids to deal with. No, one of the first things you realize when you live out of two suitcases for a few months is that you really don't need five pairs of brown pumps. One will do. Many friends ask me how I get rid of things, like paring a collection of 200 elephants down to 30. (Yep. It's true.) It's really not that difficult. If it's not something I need, I love or has a sentimental attachment, it's gone.One of the great things about Europe is that people here simply do not have all of the stuff of American consumerism, and that's a marvelous way to live, let me tell you.
Second, I decided that time spent with the people you love is precious. Obviously, that's a strange statement coming from someone who moved half a world away from a large, close-knit family and oodles of great friends. But spending time isn't just about physical proximity. It's also about Skype and emails and letters (yes, some of us still write them) and saying a little prayer every time you think about them.
Third, I decided that I would take that first AARP mailing -- the one everyone gets in the mail like magic right before the big 5-0 -- and set it on fire right before taking a tandem hang-gliding leap from Lokve, Slovenia. That's right. I would spit in the corporate eye of those who believe anyone should be associated with retired persons (a.k.a. senior citizens) at the young age of 50, or that any one can actually retire at the age of 50 these days. Spit and soar with some stranger whom you pray knows what he/she is doing, hang gliding gracefully to the soft valley floor below.
You know what they say about the best-laid plans. I have now been wearing one those unattractive but serviceable black boot casts for over two months. Incidentally, I had planned on buying a pair of brown,supple, Italian leather riding boots this winter. Instead, I spent an equivalent amount of money on a hideous right boot. While stowing some of my boxes in a friend's barn loft until I can ship them to Slovenia, a ladder slipped out from under me and I landed solidly on my right heel, shattering it on the concrete floor eight feet below. Rather than get depressed about this sudden handicap, I've become quite philosophical. I didn't hit my head or break my neck or back or die. My handicap is not permanent; I will recover, although it's a slow, long haul. I might even have to get rid of that last pair of brown pumps should wearing heels (how ironic) be out of the picture forever. I know my hang-gliding leap isn't going to happen anytime soon.Instead of soaring over the hill so see what's on the other side, I'll be making the trip on crutches.
I'll just have to find a more grounded way to celebrate turning 50. But that AARP mailing is still going up in flames.