This article was published as an issue of my newsletter Ready for Rain
A couple of weeks ago, Sachi returned from the post office with a grin on her face. She said, “Oh, do I have something for you.” This piqued my interest and I waited for the prize to be revealed. She dealt out the mail like a card dealer, slapping bills and brochures onto the table until it was finally revealed: my invitation to join AARP.
We both laughed, and mine was only a bit performative. The day had finally arrived. I was turning 50 and there was no going back. I put the invitation in the recycling bin and assumed AARP would be in touch again soon.
Entering my fifties is cause for a bit of reflection. Multiple people have asked what the birthday means to me, or what plans I have for my fifties. I leave them mostly disappointed, as I don’t have much to offer. I don’t plan to start running marathons or take up pottery. Those may happen, but it’s not my intention right now. I’m probably still riding the high of moving to Orcas and building Flattop. For now, I’m not itching for change.
When I think about the next decade, I mostly want to remain mentally and physically healthy. Age comes for all of us and my hope is to (at least) maintain the status quo. After all, the arc of aging is long and bends toward incontinence. To keep one’s head above water is a constant struggle.
Louis C.K. has this great joke about how a doctor’s advice changes once you get over 40. He limped on a sore ankle for a month and finally went to the doctor to get it fixed:
If you’re over 40, by the way, the doctors give up on you. At 20 they would have fashioned a new ankle out of acacia wood, but for me, it was:
“Yeah, your ankle’s worn out!”
Is there anything I can do?
“Well there are stretches…”
Will that fix it?
“No, you just do that now! You do that until you and your shitty ankle goes away.”
My friend Rachael sent a text on my birthday with a similar sentiment:
Happy birthday, Lee! Welcome to the over 50 club. Special privileges include: sore knees, mystery back pain, the need for a nap during the day, and going to bed early.
I wrote back to say that this was also a major part of my forties. And it’s all true. Naps have never felt better. Some form of low-grade pain or soreness is usually present and I accept it as part of life.
Alas, I am thankful to be here, right now. 110 years ago, in 1913, the average life expectancy for men was about 50 years. Today it’s 76 years. Given my relative health and lifestyle, it may be more like 80.
This is cause for hope. Each year that passes represents a year of advancements in medicine. We could be on the verge of new cancer treatments, new vaccines, new therapies. I’ve lived through 50 of these years and believe the next fifty will be marked by scientific discoveries like the ones that kept my ancestors from getting smallpox and polio.
I sometimes visualize my age and future advancements in science on the same track. We’re on a collision course, creeping slowly toward one another. The older I get, the closer science gets to curing whatever will eventually do me in. Each year time passes and I get inexorably closer to both death and potential saviors.
My hope is that science is advancing toward me faster than I am degrading. In the future, it could move down the track, toward me, in leaps and bounds. In this context, I just need to stay on the track long enough for these advancements to reach me. The sooner the better.
So I am hopeful.
I heard once that your forties are the best decade because you finally get comfortable with who you are and care less about what people think of you. That feels right to me. I care less and less every day. Or, more aptly, the comfort I feel with myself grows every day.
What I am most thankful for at this stage is the people I’ve come to know and love. First and foremost is Sachi. I can’t imagine life without her. We’ve been fortunate to find a group of friends that we’ve come to consider family. All things being equal, this is the fountain of youth.
In approaching 50, I noticed how my outlook changed. For my entire life, the future seemed practically infinite. My age wasn’t a factor. I had plenty of years to reinvent myself or find some new life direction.
Lately, my thoughts have subtly and unexpectedly shifted from infinite time to a single question: how much is left? Let’s say it’s about 30 years. That feels substantial. 30 years is a long time to do virtually anything I want. I’ll never be a starting quarterback, but 30 years feels like a luxury and I’m doing what I can to appreciate it. I know that soon I’ll look around and say, “Remember how it felt to be 50, with so much time?”
Today it feels like:
- 30 years for me to remain healthy
- 30 years for science to advance
- 30 years to reinvent or reimagine
- 30 years to discover and learn
- 30 years to increase my life expectancy
- 30 years to love
I can’t wait to see what’s next.