Fifty. Readers, this number has rung up on the cash register of my life. In ten days I’ll be 50. In celebration of this event, our family is planning a vacation to Italy. It’s our first vacation, just the four of us, ever. It’s the first time I’ve been to Europe since 1988. I am scared. Yes, I am scared. In fact, the trip, while being a great idea, in theory, has totally stressed me out. I can barely bring myself to read the guide books. I can’t bring myself to shop for things I need like comfortable shoes.
Is it the trip? Or turning 50? Or both?
50 is of course a highly symbolic birthday. On the other hand, as others remind me, it’s just a day. It’s not as if I’m going to change radically on that day. In fact, in anticipation of it, I’m having my breakdown ahead of time. I already feel fifty, if fifty has a feeling, in that I think of myself as fifty already. Then I realize I’m cheating myself out of the last dregs of forty-nine. My forties. As if they were so great. They started out well, but oy, the muffin top. Among other problems.
On the plus side, in my overeagerness I got that right-of-passage colonoscopy out of the way. As many told me, the worst part was the anticipation and the prep for the procedure. That didn't stop me from practically hyperventilating until they put the nice medicine in my arm and I went into zombieland. Afterwards, I felt great, and I left with photos of my healthy colon and proceeded to tell several people that all was well and then to tell them again the next day, not remembering that I'd already told them. This had nothing to do with age, and everything to do with that nice medicine.
So what about fifty is so scary? Well, it reeks of mortality. It seems like a big doorway to another phase of life – real, incontrovertible adulthood. Fifty is the place where things can start to go wrong physically and be terminal. At least that’s how my brain is playing it. I realize that’s kind of silly. Things can go wrong at any time. Indeed, in my own life, things went wrong once at 29. I survived. But I have the sense that things don’t usually really go terribly wrong, physically, until the fifties. It’s no longer easy for me to magically think, Oh, that won’t happen to me, when I hear of some illness or tragedy befalling someone else. I personally have always managed to have a sense that I’m going to be fine until I grow very, very old; at which time I will drop off peacefully in my sleep one night. This may surprise some of you who know what a hypochondriac I am; but these two strains, the hypochondria and the inner conviction of being protected from early death, have kept me in balance for quite a while.
The balance is skewed right now. Fifty is pushing the fact in my face that there is a lot of randomness to life and that is frankly scaring me. I suppose that’s just me having the typical midlife crisis. Indeed, as I think about it, I see it. Fifty arrives, and fear of death comes to the fore. Along with that, comes the reappraisal of one’s life. Inevitable regrets.
I feel kinda bad writing glumly about reappraising my life. After all, for quite a long time now, I’ve been all about success, success, success. I have to admit that at this moment, the success feels buried by these other worries. Also, I have been struggling with a book proposal, and as the husband astutely pointed out, the struggle has undermined my sense of achievement over the last umpteen months. It's hard to write about overcoming a sense of failure when once again I'm feeling like one. So the cycle continues. I’ve mentioned it before. System breakdown being part of the system. There are periods of frustration and fallowness even for the most productive, positive, go-getting types – so I’ve heard.
I’m continuing to write the proposal, albeit at a painfully slow pace, and I’m trusting the cycle will turn again, from frustration, from winter, to new creativity, to spring.