I see my folks are gettin’ on
And I watch their bodies change
I know they see the same in me
And it makes us both feel strange
No matter how you tell yourself
It’s what we all go through
Those lines are pretty hard to take
When they’re staring back at you.
– Nick of Time by Bonnie Raitt
I got my period on Valentine’s Day. Talk about a literal red-letter day! Never have I been so unabashedly joy-filled at the sight of blood. For the first time, I truly appreciate a euphemism both girls and women have used for generations to refer to their Moontime: “my friend.”
Perhaps I should explain that I am not thirteen. I’m not 37. I’m 50, and this is my first cycle in five months. Menopause swooped in without warning last fall and I dried up like the Sahara. To suddenly bleed after a week in which I did, in fact, feel premenstrual is confirmation that my body’s still experimenting with this shift. It’s not a done deal. There’s yet time to adjust to the idea of being a Crone — and being eligible for membership in AARP (you’ve got to be kidding!)
Embracing the “F” Word
Now that the largest cohort in history is graying en masse, someone turns 50 approximately every eight seconds. Even this formidable fleet can’t stem the tide of aging jokes, however. At 50, the good-natured ribbing begins in earnest. My friend Faith, who celebrated her 50th just weeks before me, recalled a card she received when she turned 40: “I’m going to have to say the ‘F’ word: forty! Forty! Forty!”
We lamented that the greeting card industry doesn’t seem to think we have a sense of humor a decade later. Why isn’t there a card for 50-year-olds that reads, “I’m at the age where I can freely use the ‘F’ word: fifty, fifty, fifty!!”
My parents, who do not perceive themselves as “old” in their eighties, sent me a hilarious Dr. Seuss parody of “Thing One” and “Thing Two” called, “It’s a Fifty Thing!” The birthday card included lines such as, “Thing Fifty can groove to the latest CD. (And with bifocal lenses, Thing Fifty can see!)”
Hm. It’s one “thing” to major in gerontology and enjoy working with elders in your twenties; quite a different matter when you’re on the cusp of joining a collective that’s marginalized in Western society and rendered virtually invisible.
I remember my mom telling me with pride about a man at the Department of Motor Vehicles flirting with her when she retook her driver’s test at age 65. I was 35 at the time, and even then, wondered aloud in my public speaking class “how much longer” men would continue to flirt with me.
From the vantage point of an additional fifteen years, I find my 30-something fear rather quaint.
Redefining Wrinkles and “Cool”
The fifties promise to be an intriguing balance of living in an aging body while possessing a certain ineffable wisdom and spirit we hadn’t accessed in our younger years. Although the twenty-somethings and teens I meet today often seem wise far beyond where my generation was at their age, due no doubt to the rapid evolution of humanity as a whole, there is much to be said for the joie de vivre that accrues with vintage.
Wrinkles signify ripeness. There’s a reason the honorific, “sage” is usually conferred on an elder.
I met an 83-year-old woman with close-cropped silver hair streaked fuchsia, wearing peace sign earrings. I commented that it was so cool to see “a woman of her maturity” thus attired, to which she replied, “Oh, I wasn’t cool when I was young!”
Reconciling body image with spiritual awareness is, paradoxically, only an issue if one chooses to focus on the physical. When the body becomes background — as it often is de facto in youth, with parts that are well oiled, shapely, firm, and thus, easier to “ignore” — our essence shines forth, and that’s what people see when they read the story in our eyes.
A Bountiful Harvest
Fifty is a time to harvest our joy — and acknowledge evidence of our mortality. While several of my contemporaries have already matched wits with serious illness, and a few have transitioned to the other side of life, I’ve also watched three dear friends meet and marry their life partners in their fifties. As I’ve been casting my soul mate net for a while now, this is heartening news.
Life in the Middle Ages can be bountiful, as Oprah Winfrey, our ultimate generational role model for accomplished aging, said of her 50th birthday: “All these years I’ve been taking lessons from life experiences and feeling like I was growing into myself. Finally, I feel grown. More like myself than I’ve ever been. If it’s true what Maya Angelou says, that the fifties represent everything you were meant to be, all I can say is, watch out.”
Riley Mackenzie* embodies Angelou’s decree. In her fifties, she studied the subtleties of Argentine Tango, became a serious ceramics artist, and swung from a high trapeze. Now 68, she’s just back from a leisurely road trip around the periphery of the U.S. with her husband of almost, yes, 50 years. She’s also reinventing her marketing business with a partner, another vital woman in her late fifties. Mackenzie says emphatically, “It’s the most fun I could ever imagine having!”
Hot Flashes…of Inspiration
Age, like everything else in life, is a matter of perspective. Six months before my milestone birthday, I fell into conversation with a lively older gentleman as we waited to cross the street. He was searching his pockets for his eyeglasses, and, after I helped him find them, we walked together for a few minutes. He told me he was 100 years old, and regaled me with tales of his life. As we reached a parting of the ways, he turned to me and asked, quite seriously, “So tell me, young lady, have you graduated from college yet?”
Now, that’s the ultimate tonic for the “chronologically gifted”!
As I sit in a local teahouse, sipping rooibos and savoring my feminine cycle along with some exquisite chocolate mousse, I’m tickled by these words from The Reconnections website, on meeting the beloved: “I saw a license plate the other day, on a car belonging to a woman aged 50 plus: ‘Give me chocolate, and no one gets hurt.’ I thought that one was pretty neat until I saw a better one: ‘I’m over 50 and I’m still hot — except now, it comes in flashes.'”
How true. Flashes of insight. Flashes of inspiration. Flashes of unmitigated delight at just how extraordinary life on this beautiful blue-green planet can be. One author refers to the second half-century as “Jubilee Time.”
I’m ready to party. Considering how many playmates I’ll have in the galactic sandbox, it’s destined to be an unsurpassed blast. Bring it on: fifty! Fifty! Fifty!
* name changed to honor her privacy
© Copyright Amara Rose 2007-2019
About the Author:
Amara Rose can pluck a graying hair from her scalp at 25 mph; driving any faster, she waits for a red light. To see what she’s done with her first half-century, visit LiveYourLight.com. Offer her dark chocolate and you open the doorway to friendship.