Double Nickel

Here I am turning 55. Just how on God’s green earth did I get this old?

I have a close friend of over four decades who calls this birthday “55 Alive.” You see, her father never made it to that age, so for her family, turning 55 is a reason to both celebrate and reflect. I am borrowing that philosophy today.

There may come a point in each of our lives when we look critically at who we are and what we have accomplished, and realize that we have more years behind us than we have ahead. In these moments I pause to wonder, what remains to be done? It is then that I start looking for good examples.

Finding and being a good example is something my mother used to dwell on. When we were children she wanted us older kids to set good examples for the younger ones. We hated that at the time. Now as I look for good examples, I also look AT my mother. At 84 years young, she has raised five children, outlived her husband of more than 40 years, and lives life very much on her own terms. In her senior years she has been active in numerous community groups and clubs, built her own at-home sewing business, learned to play the piano, and keeps busy attending cultural events and spending time with friends.

My 9th birthday, with the Schwinn I got from my great aunt.  Note the white knee socks worn by me and all of my sisters.

My 9th birthday, with the Schwinn I got from my great aunt.

When I was a teenager, I condemned so much of what I felt my mother stood for. There she was, tied to a home and family, giving up her “self” for the sake of others. That, I swore, would never be me. In the 1970’s women were burning bras and rallying against a male-dominated society, and those were the women I admired. But life has ways of redirecting us and now I, too, have raised my family and am shuffling my cards again.

In many ways I will never be my mother. Her faith is strong. She is incredibly organized. She is more calm and collected than I will ever be. Despite our differences, I have grown to deeply respect her and she is a great example.

So as I move on in my own journey, I have reviewed my own priorities and found that I have already been somewhat successful. My daughters are pursuing their own lives, my husband and I are finding our way back to our own relationship without children, and my career paths and volunteer work have, I think, made a positive contribution to my community and fulfilled my own sense of self.

What’s left? For starters, I am working to be healthier, so that I can enjoy this next stretch of my life with some degree of physical comfort. I will always have this stupid disease/condition called Achalasia to deal with, but I refuse to be either defined or debilitated by it. Creative pursuits are more of a priority than ever: writing especially. And the time I spend with family and friends is precious.

If you make it to this point in your life without scars then you have taken no risks. The scars: physical, emotional, or psychological, make us stronger. These battle wounds are the result of loss, illness, fear, and unrealized ambitions. Life is scary and messy and almost never goes our way, so I will wear my scars with pride at having navigated the chaos so far.

I have also been blessed to be surrounded by interesting people. I have family and friends who are caring, thinking, and committed. They are engaged in the world around them, in other people, in nature, and in projects that improve not only their lives but the lives of others.

When I was young, I wanted to change the world. Guess what? The world has changed during the course of my life; some of it for the better, some for the worse, and hardly any of it because of anything that I did or didn’t do.

I am rarely content to simply be content. Now, as I move past this double nickel birthday, I hope to use whatever time I have left to find just a small sliver of contentment as I still work to fill my time with purposeful pursuits. There are many, many working years remaining before retirement is even an option. Despite that, I am going to make time to enjoy this beautiful earth around me and the fabulous range of people who inhabit it.

Maybe it is no coincidence that the “double nickel” is standard highway driving speed – 55mph. Care to join me for a birthday cruise?