“Forty is the old age of youth; fifty is the youth of old age.” – Victor Hugo
“Age is just a number”, as the saying goes. Well, there are numbers, and then there are NUMBERS!
50 is such a number.
I turned 50 recently, and it made me think about age, aging, and life generally more than at all other birthdays combined. There is good reason behind that. As a number, few birthdays resonate in our minds at all, really.
18: I can vote!
21: I CAN DRINK!
30: I am not a kid anymore.
When I turned 40, my wife – you’ve heard of her, she runs this website – threw me a birthday party in Midtown, at a friend’s restaurant. Great time, family and friends, but I didn’t attach special significance to the number itself.
Turning 50 seemed like an appropriate time to take stock of what I have achieved, personally and professionally; to analyze what I have done well, and not so well; and to think about the passage of time, something that I think about often, perhaps more often than most others.
I used to measure the passage of time by two events: the Super Bowl and the Kentucky Derby, two of my so-called yearly “High Holy Days”. When thinking about the past or a past year particularly I would associate that year with the winners of those events.
Now, though, I measure the passage of time through something – someone else – actually: our son. I look at our Christmas card pictures affixed to the refrigerator door – almost all of which were taken by a longtime friend of my wife’s, what luck! – and see him at one, two, three, and so on. I cannot look at the world through his eyes directly, but I can measure the passage of time through him. Now seven, I try not to treat him like he is five – not always successfully, just ask my wife – but I can see how he is maturing physically and mentally. (And two years from now, I will probably struggle not to treat him like he is seven.)
I have rarely been a good judge of guessing people’s ages. Mostly, I think, that is so because when I look in the mirror, I never “see” my age. I always see a person younger than my actual age. I am sure that is a widely-held response.
I received the following message from a friend who I see once, maybe twice, each year, though we communicate fairly regularly: “I didn’t realize it was your birthday, so Happy Birthday. How the hell are you 50!” I admit that I like seeing other people’s surprised faces and hearing their words of disbelief when I announce my age.
When researching quotes about turning 50, something stood out, though: there were many more thoughts about how you look at 50 compared to 40, and 30, and so on. Those lines were expressed, usually, by the “face” that we have at 50. However, there were many fewer quotes about what we have faced, a far more important measure than how we appear to others physically.
Among those few comments relating to what we have faced, I came across this apt quote: “By the time we hit 50, we have learned our hardest lessons. We have found out that only a few things are really important…” – Marie Dressler
The hardest lesson is discovering what is really important to you.
And that comes with age.