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On Turning Fifty

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Like an approaching storm, I knew it was coming and it would not miss me. I was going to turn fifty. I remember years ago doing the math; in 2011, I’ll be fifty and back then it seemed so far away that it might never happen. Then last September, one month before my birthday IT came. You see, it was a normal September day and I went to the post office to pick up our mail . . . and the first letter I pulled out of the mailbox had the big red AARP letters on it! I felt like I needed to ignore it as I retrieved the rest of the mail. As I sat at a traffic light on the way home, I was sorting through the rest of the mail and there it was again. I looked at it long enough to try and decide whether it was for real , but my name was on it, so with a gasp, I then quickly tossed it into the backseat like it was a hot potato, and since everything gets lost in my backseat, I hoped I may never see it again.

I rationalized that I was still forty-nine and it would just go away, I’ll deal with it later! I know that I take care of myself and thanks to twenty-three years of living in Florida, I held off a few years with a lot of sunscreen and large floppy hats. Images of what I might look like when I hit this milestone, well, they didn’t match reality! I was the kind of woman who thought that life would change drastically at this point. I would no longer be able to enjoy my long uphill lung-busting Colorado hikes. I would begin wearing slacks with elastic waistbands and sensible shoes. I would want dinner at four , drive really slow, and start watching Matlock reruns! Maybe even moving back to Florida for the warm climate! Then one September day, I went out leaf peeping and hiked around this beautiful little lake and it finally hit me! Fifty is not an automatic number only turning you into a senior citizen! It’s a right of passage, a very important and special milestone in the timeline of my life and here I was, outside being active, feeling so alive, not wearing any elastic and the only sensible shoes I was wearing were hiking boots!

The day of my big birthday finally came and to my surprise, I didn’t feel bad at all. I looked into my mirror and I was not instantly transformed into a seahag. I was still me and I looked the same as I did the last day I spent in my forties! That day a lot of my life began flashing from my memory, some happy times, some very painful times. I remembered that in high school I was a sprinter on the track team and was very good. I built my own home in Florida and lived in it for eighteen years. I had two beautiful healthy baby boys, the first of which I raised alone when his father dumped me in my seventh month of pregnancy. At thirty-three I had open-heart surgery to remove a non-cancerous tumor from my heart. After I recovered, I met a wonderful man who not only taught me that I can love again, but he accepted my three-year-old son and is without a doubt his true father. My husband knew I always wanted to live in the mountains of Colorado, so he worked hard for two years to get a job out here and buy a house in a price range that I never imagined I’d ever see us pay. So I can say that he made another dream come true and we now live in the Colorado high country at over 9,000 feet and I want to grow . . . older here I now get it, life years are like pieces of a puzzle , one more added each year , one for each event in your life and it’s up to you to put it all together and to realize that there is no rules and you have to do the work yourself to complete the puzzle, to complete you!

So at fifty, that’s where I am, a work in progress. Older and yet so much wiser, with a few more wrinkles and sore knees, but with a greater knowledge of what life is and how to be compassionate and to always try and pass on what I’ve learned to my boys, to let them know that fifty is not a death sentence for your youth. It is simply another life decade beginning. I also noted that fifty doesn’t come at you like a gunshot or car crash; it comes in quietly and gently and with as much happiness and dignity as you will allow. I finally did fill out my AARP application and I carry my membership card proudly. Last November before our first big snowfall I went out on a four-wheel drive and hike with my pooch Bella, a member of the doggie AARP. We found a hike up to a small lake and we both huffed and puffed our way upwards on our way to another summit. At the top I was breathless and my knees were scolding me, but I felt more pride then I had in a very long time. I climbed another mountain, it was another year and my new age was not going to define me. Standing on that mountain was like a trip to the fountain of youth, I felt both fatigue and appreciation for where I was and who I had become. There is beauty all around me and my family and I have a lovely life here. Bella and I hiked backed down to where I’d parked my truck and as I lifted her back in I noticed the time. It was 4:00 p.m. and I wasn’t hungry at all. I turned around and headed back home across that bumpy rocky road, I even did two stream crossings . . . and I said out loud to myself, next!

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