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The big five-O. It is as ineluctable as rain in Vancouver. I am turning 50 in a matter of weeks. And of course, as a result of a certain global pandemic, I won’t be marking the occasion by popping corks and singing REO Speedwagon in a kitchen packed with family and friends. Which is totally fine. I may not be able to celebrate the milestone in grand fashion, but I can certainly contemplate it.
Truth be told, it’s the first birthday that feels like it’s happening to someone else. I know I was born in 1971. I understand the math. That’s not the wonder of it. It’s just that 1971 can’t possibly be 50 years ago, can it? Can it?!
Here is the disconnect. I still bound up the stairs two at a time without even thinking about it. I enjoy playing my music loud. I like to drive fast. I wake up every morning and I feel (touch wood) really good. And when I look in the mirror, well, the face looking back at me doesn’t match my idea of what a 50-year old looks like. Sure, my hair is thinner. There is more salt in my whisker. A few more crinkles around my eyes when I smile, but somehow, it doesn’t seem like five decades’ worth of weathering. Of course, I may very well be fooling myself. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Numbers don’t lie.
On the great metre stick of life (imagine each centimetre represents a year) the average Canadian will reach the 82 centimetre mark. For men, the average drops to 80 centimetres. Statistically speaking, that’s a mere ruler between me and average-life expectancy. Just writing that gives me a sudden pang of anxiety.
I am not a proverbial notch on a metaphorical measuring stick. My age does not and will not define me. So why does 50 feel so significant? Some human reference points might be a better way to shed some light on the matter.
If I was Mick Jagger, I’d be the 1993 version. He released Wandering Spirit that year, one of his rare solo efforts. I know, you’ve probably never even heard of the album. In the canon of great music Jagger recorded, no one lists Wandering Spirit. Ever.
If I was Sean Connery, my last Bond film, Diamonds are Forever, would be nine years behind me. Despite saying I will never play Bond again, I will reprise the role two years from now in Never Say Never Again before stepping away from 007 forever.
If I was George Foreman, my legendary return to the ring to become the oldest heavyweight champion of the world would be five years ago. I would be deep into the infomercial phase of my life, putting my name on grilling machines.
Time to change tack. I’ve been looking outward when what 50 really does is invite you to look inward. I take out a piece of paper and quickly sketch out six columns. I label them: seventies, eighties, nineties, and so on. In a stream of consciousness I jot down the highlights that come to mind for each decade. No filtering. No editing after the fact. In a matter of minutes, the exercise is completed. The result is a most extraordinary list. It begins with the gold shag carpet of my childhood home and winds its way through parachute pants, a certain 1977 Honda Civic and a mullet that took forever to grow. There is the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, college, marriage, career and lots of family stuff, including the chance to watch my girls become smart, beautiful women. And of course, the time of COVID-19.
I am a bit dumbfounded by it all. My life in bullet points. Reading it back does evoke some real emotion. It’s a long way from a perfect life, and certainly unremarkable in many ways, but it’s mine. And it’s not one I’d trade with anyone.
Fifty is going to take some getting used to. I am genuinely glad for the reflection it has inspired and excited for the road ahead. I do find the older I get the more grateful I am for everything. This may have something to do with the Ashtanga yoga I have recently started practicing, but it is more than likely the result of having reached a unique vantage point that comes after five decades of navigating love, loss, conflict, ambition, career, family, friends and relationships. I can’t say I’ve mastered any one of them, but I am confident I have learned a great many wonderful things. And after more than 18,000 days on earth, I am still learning. And I am still in awe.
So perhaps 50 is not such a bad place to be after all. At least when measured by the only metre stick that matters – which is my own. As for missing out on the big party? Well, let’s just say I am optimistic that a post-pandemic world will give us all the reason we need to celebrate.
And while it is also true that if I was Clint Eastwood, I’d be the 1980 Clint Eastwood co-starring in Any Which Way You Can with an orangutan named Clyde, I am not despairing. I have a really good feeling my Unforgiven is still in the offing.
Sean Nosek lives in Maple Ridge, B.C.
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