In a matter of days I will hit a half century. I am not referring to cricket scores but rather to age.
50 years old, which once (not so long ago) seemed to exist in the distant mists of time, has now descended upon me with a sudden thump.
Up until a just a few days ago, I dismissed this milestone as insignificant, amounting to just another number and a business opportunity for Hallmark.
But as the day has neared like a rapidly approaching chasm in the path of a runaway train, so I have found myself mulling over its meaning. I have been dredging my mind for memories of past (mis)adventures and speculating on future exploits.
One of the prevailing feelings in the midst of this introspection is injustice, of having been cheated – that while my birth certificate says fifty my emotional body clock is stuck somewhere in my mid-20’s. I feel like Tom Hanks in the film ‘Big’ – only with less maturity.
Never has the saying that ‘youth is wasted on the young’ felt more appropriate. It seems grossly unfair that the early years of our lives go by as if in slow motion. But as time passes, so the clock speeds up, to the point where weeks fly by like days, and years pass in the space of months.
It would be much fairer if ageing operated the other way around. Time should bound along at a canter during the early decades so that youthful mistakes, hangovers, heartbreak, and the inevitable embarrassments are quickly forgotten.
Similarly, the later years should amble by, allowing sufficient time to appreciate the achievements won, the lessons learnt, and the tastes acquired before everything draws to a very slow and satisfying close.
As it is, getting older is filled with unfair contradictions. I have a wealth of experience, but can’t remember the details. I can afford and appreciate fine food, but according to my doctor I am not meant to eat it. I can also enjoy great wine and whisky, but the merest sniff of alcohol carries the possibility of a hangover to follow.
And as I age, so I am forced to spend more (of the rapidly passing and diminishing) time carrying out running repairs on my fraying bodily fabric. Exercise which was once effortless and recreational is now an ache-filled necessity to ward off the encroaching years and added weight.
The other problem with fifty is that in chronological terms it is stranded in no-mans land. I am no longer filled with youthful vigour, yet at the same time I have not yet acquired the Obi-Wan Kenobi-like wisdom of those who have seen it all. Middle-age perfectly captures what it is to be fifty – not at the extremes or the cutting edge but rather in the somewhat featureless center.
This may sound like my birthday has all the makings of mid-life crisis, but I will not be rushing out to buy a Harley Davidson or getting “FOREVER YOUNG’ tattooed across my chest.
Firstly, crises involve a lot of effort, and at this stage of my life I have neither the energy nor the time to waste in trying to re-capture my long departed youth. Secondly, at the end of the day, even with the whining, aches, indigestion, and sprouting grey hairs there are a number of advantages to reaching fifty.
Despite decades of rank irresponsibility, some experience has been gained along the way, making the here and now more than OK. Professionally, I have become useful for something other than prison or filling man-holes, and personally I have gathered just enough maturity to have miraculously acquired the most fantastic family possible.
The truth is that the view from the perch of fifty is pretty fine. I have a lot to look back on, while also (hopefully) having a decent number of years to experience what lies ahead. At the same time, I still have the capability to enjoy life’s offerings while also (after childcare, bills, holidays, and house repairs) possessing – just about – the means to do so.
So while fifty is just another number (alongside 600 months, 18,262 days and 438,288 hours – but who’s counting?), it is also a landmark to be considered, borne and possibly even enjoyed.
Thus on July 25th I shall be raising a glass of fine wine or single malt whisky, neither too early nor too late in the day, and toasting the past while looking to the future.
L’Chaim – To Life!