Rounding the corner into my sixth decade, I still feel as if I'm at the starting gate of ‘figuring it all out'. Aren't I supposed to be all grown up by now?
It took me two years to figure out how to celebrate, or maybe I should say process, my 50th birthday. Probably like most people it was a little of both. Part of my ambivalence stemmed from the two diametrically opposed ideas about this milestone birthday that I held at the same time.
On the one hand, I felt - and feel - unchanged from my younger self. Yes, of course, I'd evolved and changed over the years. But the number 50 implies something bigger that didn't seem to fit my experience. I don't feel as if a switch has been flipped, and I've been suddenly transformed into a "wise elder".
Only recently have I gotten around to getting married (yes, for the first time) and, together with my husband, I've purchased the first house I've ever owned. I'm still paying off student loans from grad school, for god's sake. So much of my life remains in flux. Like most women I know, my life bears little resemblance to my grandmother's life when she was in her 50's, or even my mother's (who was always youthful, in looks and spirit).
On the other hand, I also realized that ‘50' is a significant milestone, one that will never come again. What I was feeling is best expressed, I think, by the saying, "The days are long, but life is short." There are times in life when we absolutely must extricate ourselves from the race through long, busy, sometimes exhausting days, and reflect on life's real timeline.
I just wasn't quite sure how to do that.
Faced with this internal dilemma, I did what any self-respecting conflicted person would do. I ignored the whole thing. Of course, I celebrated the day. But I didn't take the time to acknowledge and process the milestone factor.
My 50th was quickly in the rear view mirror, but in the back of my mind, I had a nagging sense of a missed opportunity, not for attention from others but a deeper self-assessment, a necessary internal shift.
The following year, the ante was upped. My birthday fell on a milestone date, 12/12/12, the last time in this century that a single number would repeat in date, month and year. For some reason, this second ‘once in a lifetime' birthday, one year after my 50th, really made me pause. Perhaps I did have some unfinished business to address, and this milestone would be my excuse to do that.
This second time around, I took a more thoughtful approach and considered several different ways to accommodate that nagging need for reflection and assessment.
In the end, I decided that solitude, beauty and nature were the solution. I gave myself the gift of a brief retreat, three days alone in a one-room cabin in Big Sur, with a jewel of a garden overlooking the stunning coastline. Time spent hiking, reading, writing & meditating, was just what I needed to step out of chronos time and into kairos. I reflected on what had been and created a vision for what would be next.
At 12:12 PM on 12/12/12, I took a picture of the landscape around me. I wanted a memento of a fleeting moment that will never come again, in my lifetime certainly. It would serve as a reminder that all time, every moment, is like that, really.
As luck would have it, a stunning vista was not the snapshot memento I was destined to capture. The brilliant blue skies I had enjoyed for most of my stay faded a few moments before noon, as the fog started to roll in. My photograph captures a steel gray sky over an equally gray ocean. But if you look closely you can make out the shape of a heart formed in the wake of the tide on the glassy sea.
Kind of a fitting image to mark a milestone reckoning, don't you think?
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What about you? How have you marked milestone birthdays?
Have you experienced a particular birthday or other milestone event that’s been more difficult or special or surprising than others?