Being 50

I’m not actually 50 but I’m practising. Doris Lessing reckons that “For the last third of life there remains only work. It alone is always stimulating, rejuvenating, exciting and satisfying.” Henry Rollins contemplates the tree line, always getting further away. Leonard Cohen just looks it in the eye and laughs from the bottom of the well, covered in the “filth of the butcher”.

At 50, my father was contemplating retirement. I now wonder whether he admitted a kind of defeat – certainly one might argue that his life ended a year later and he simply drifted pointlessly on for the following 30 years. I think that would be wrong in many ways but his, well, settling for nothing in particular still baffles me. Retirement is never likely to be an option for me. Supermum’s father worked up to almost the day of the his death and it seems like a better option. I’d written ‘noble’ but that seems unfair to my own father, for all the difficulties between us.

He might have pointed out that there are many different kinds of work.

There are days when I tell myself that I’m tired but I remember tired days at the age of 10, 15, 20, 25…days when I wanted to lie down and stop. At fifty (or approaching fifty) one is grateful for the chance to get up again and start.

I’m lucky. Getting up and starting is still a blessing for me. I look forward across hopefully many years and copy down the words of an old Chinese poet, again thinking of supermum’s father and a last afternoon surrounded by his wife, daughters, grandchildren. I suppose what I’m saying is that I hope for the same and to not be ready for “the long journey” until a few days beforehand but to then be as ready as any man can be.

In yesterday’s winds I was happy to begin my long journey,
But today in all this sunlit warmth of spring I feel better.

And now that I’m packed and ready for that distant voyage,
What does it matter if I linger here a few days longer?

(Po Chû-i (CE772-846), translated by David Hinton)

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3 responses to “Being 50

  • jjdaddyo

    You and I seem to be on parallel, 49 year old, tracks here.

    Philip Larkin – Sad Steps

    Groping back to bed after a piss
    I part thick curtains, and am startled by
    The rapid clouds, the moon’s cleanliness.

    Four o’clock: wedge-shadowed gardens lie
    Under a cavernous, a wind-picked sky.
    There’s something laughable about this,

    The way the moon dashes through clouds that blow
    Loosely as cannon-smoke to stand apart
    (Stone-coloured light sharpening the roofs below)

    High and preposterous and separate –
    Lozenge of love! Medallion of art!
    O wolves of memory! Immensements! No,

    One shivers slightly, looking up there.
    The hardness and the brightness and the plain
    Far-reaching singleness of that wide stare

    Is a reminder of the strength and pain
    Of being young; that it can’t come again,
    But is for others undiminished somewhere.

  • Anne Camille

    Turning 50 was much more difficult than BEING 50 for me. At times — like this past weekend when I attended my aunt’s (Mom’s sis) funeral — that I am indeed old. I wonder where the years have gone and I think about how I was when I was my son’s age (23). I’m not even sure that I recognize that person any more. Other days, I feel as if I haven’t aged a bit and that time in front of me will continue for a long while. What I have learned is that it isn’t worth it not to be authentic, to grab dreams while I can, and to enjoy each moment. That is easy to say, but so damn hard to remember to do. I’m in the planning stages for an “adventure” — walking the Camino de Santiago — this year and am thinking of starting it on my birthday. Why on that date? Because I want to be both aware of my time spent thus far and to remind myself that I don’t know how many more days/months/years there may be on my future path. Both those, it seems to me need to be respected and celebrated.

  • Barbara

    And here was me worrying about turning forty.

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