Welcome to 50

Gentle reader, are you 50? Or approaching 50, or slightly over 50? If so, chances are you’re adrift. Without a guidebook. Without, really, any solid advice for how to navigate a decade that, quite frankly, seem to be ignored in all the “how to” pieces littering the Internet. (How to firm your trapezoid muscles in one easy move. How to pickle 20 varieties of heirloom rutabagas. How to raise genius children who are humble to boot.)

How to be 50?

Honestly, no one expects to be 50. Oh sure, we all expect to live that long – it is the 21st century, after all – but no one imagines what 50 will feel like, when we’re 25 or so. Certainly not when we’re 19. Or even 41.

Because – and trust me on this if you’re not already there – 50 comes as a surprise. One day, you’re 32 and trampling willy-nilly through young adulthood, thinking it will never end, collecting spouses, jobs, kids, homes, and an inexplicable collection of Bruce Willis boxed set DVDs – and suddenly, bam! Your friends are throwing a party that includes black balloons with a cheesy “Over the Hill!” motif. They are comparing hot flashes. They complain about knee discomfort.

How did this happen? you ask. And what do I do now?

Suddenly, everything on the radio sounds unfamiliar. And crappy. You tune to the oldies station, which is playing Guns ‘n’ Roses, for crying out loud. Your kids’ friends look at you as though you don’t exist, because you have passed the age when you could possibly be regarded as human. You start getting worrisome junk mail concerning people “50 and over.” (That’s it? We are specifically targeted by advertisers in our twenties, thirties, and forties – and then, suddenly, we drop off the cliff of middle age into the chasm of “50 and over,” to be lumped in with people in their eighties? Really? And that’s no offense to octogenarians – someday I hope to join their ranks. But I’m not there yet.)

So, you’re 50. Is it time to close the door on life? To give up ever being cool again? Is it ever appropriate to play air drums in the car? Do you give up on your dream of traveling through Europe with a backpack? Do you send in your AARP card and start scouring the Internet for senior discounts?

Oh sure, there are answers out there, you say. There’s Oprah. (When has there not been Oprah?) And magazines targeted toward Mature and Wealthy, offering sneak peeks at $300 jeans and other items that boggle your mind. There are hundreds of financial planning experts with dire warnings about protecting your nest egg.

All of which give us the heebie-jeebies. Because some of us don’t have a nest egg. We’re still getting the hang of being capable adults. Trying to play catch-up from decades spent with small children. Looking curiously at our spouses, who are now 50-year-old strangers who seem suddenly older than the people we married.

Yes, many of us are parents. Grandparents, even. We’ve lived, loved, and lost. Maybe we’ve learned a valuable lesson here and there. Or maybe we haven’t learned a thing.

We’re conservative. We’re liberal. We’re enmeshed in our professions or perennial job-hoppers. We’re black, we’re white, we’re multi-cultural. We’re Christian, Jewish, atheist; we’re everything in between and alongside. But that’s not what this is about. This is about the thing we all share, the thing that binds people of all genders, races, religions, and creeds.

We’re 50.

Come with me, gentle reader, and let’s figure out exactly how to do this thing.

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