Almost four months ago, I turned 50.
Apparently, it took.
Don't get me wrong - I knew it was coming, and know there is no turning back. I've been counting, reliably, for decades now. Besides, the signs arrived long ago.
Like how the ease of gaining, and difficulty of losing weight increase at the same, vengeful rate. Or the decline in quality and quantity hair where you want it, and savage gains everywhere else. Basically, the brutal truths of time and gravity.
At least I was prepared for the cliches. I found other signs more troubling.
Each fall, I devote an entire day to making a giant pot of spaghetti sauce, and stock the freezer for the months to come. I don't mind the prep, hours of cooking or cleanup. It's the shopping I despise.
A few years back, I reached the end of my patience in the last store and at the end the of list. The final item: anchovies. I had a can in hand when I noticed a larger one, on sale and half the price - such a smart shopper.
Back home, I was emptying the bags when my roommate Carl, an excellent cook, voiced his surprise over the use of sardines.
"You mean anchovies," I said.
"Maybe you mean anchovies, but you bought sardines."
I looked at the can, and cursed. When I told him the smart shopper part, he laughed harder.
Returning from the (expletive) store in record time, I threw the can on the counter, opened red wine and cut onions. Carl reentered the kitchen, and burst out laughing.
I'd done it again.
Although I had succeeded in selecting a smaller, (more anchovy-appropriate) can, there still weren't any anchovies in it.
I hate sardines...
A year ago, mostly because I broke my last pair of glasses, I went for an eye exam. I'd avoided it because I knew I needed bifocals, but wasn't in a hurry to have it confirmed. Once it was, I chose traditional lenses, the ones with visible lines of demarcation between the near and far-sighted, um... focals?
Anyway, it was tricky getting used to them. Light can catch on those focal borders in funny ways. I saw sunlight reflecting off a jar of pennies resemble burning embers on the carpet. Which I rushed to stamp out like a dog chasing a laser pointer - and I don't even have a fireplace.
During this same time frame, I was struggling to find someone to repair my sliding glass door. I was trying to salvage the original wooden frame and base, but it was too far gone. Rot had set in, producing small, unseen gaps. Gaps large enough for mice to squeeze through. And, they did.
I was continually startled for weeks, reacting to both real motion and optical illusion with desperate urgency and a stunning lack of grace. The resultant nicks, cuts and ego bruises remained long after the mice were eradicated and the door replaced.
My least favorite reminders of age are provided by daily interactions with younger generations. During a break at work recently, a group was discussing the movie Mad Max: Fury Road. When I mentioned it could be considered a remake, they were surprised. Not nearly as much as I, when half of them didn't know who Mel Gibson was.
Somehow, all of these signs seemed easier to deny before I actually turned 50. Besides, thanks to my generous family and friends, I was kind of looking forward to this birthday.
My siblings gave me a trip to San Diego, for a long weekend just before my birthday. They afforded me an entire day of touring craft breweries, with my brother Jim the designated driver of a giant white van. It was epic. The rest of the weekend we laughed, told stories and shared amazing meals. The best birthday party ever.
On the big day itself, my friends Sarah and Sheroy took me on an adventure in Chicago. They took care of all the logistics, allowing me to shut off my brain and simply have fun. And, I did.
Since I approached these celebrations like a twenty-something, I'm a bit shocked I survived. Now that I have, it's time for acceptance.
I've heard that with age comes wisdom; I'm more apt to say awareness.
My appreciation for the good things that have come my way has grown. My understanding of the part I've played in some of the bad things has deepened.
Whether or not I translate that into wisdom is yet to be determined, but I'm hopeful that I've finally found my voice.
I'm confident of one thing: there is much more to life after fifty than sardines, bifocals and mice.
And, that's a good sign.