Some reflections on fifty.

Dear friends,

The author, front and center at a family picnic, circa 1969.

The author, front and center at a family picnic, circa 1968.

I turn 50 on Monday.

1962 seems another world ago. Jackie Kennedy. The Cuban missile crisis. Love Me Do. James Meredith.

I’ve seen so much and so little. My life is expansive and somehow tiny, like a sliver of light that slips under the door of a darkened room and beckons me to cross the threshold into something bright and exciting.

I have so much — and I want so much more. Not things, you know, but moments. Of all sizes and all sentiments, moment after moment fitting into this intricate, zigsaw puzzle I call my life. I’m greedy that way. I want more love, more joy, more reflection, more grief, even the inconsolable kind, more sweat-spit labor and tired bones, more ragged emotion, more evidence I’m here, heart still beating, mattering to somebody, being somebody’s mooring, or if not, at least a bright spot no matter how transient.

I’ve been grumbling about this milestone for nearly a year. In recent weeks my outward angst has magnified, why I’m not sure. Vanity surely plays a role. I’ve said a woman can’t be sexy and 50, but that’s not true and so maybe I think it’s only so for me. Truth is, though, I’m still the apple of the eye of the only man who matters, the one who daily reaches across the gulf that is our king-sized bed just so his hand can rest on my hip. He still desires my glances, my kisses, my laughs, and who can estimate the inestimable value of a man whose affection is so evident? I am still a prize, it seems, in those sparkling blue eyes I first looked into on Christmas Day 27 years ago, a blind date that turned into blinding devotion.

I want to feel alive, pulsing, resisting decay with every ounce of my energy, even as my energy depletes, unceremoniously, unaware of the urgent stirring inside me. It must always be this way, I suppose, this quickening of the heart even as the limbs stall. It is Mother Nature’s great joke, this divergence of passion and intellect from stamina and dexterity. You can have it, sister, but you can’t have it all, not at the same time, she whispers to me.

I seek to outwit her. To fiercely disprove her, and so I contemplate ambitious goals, like running a thousand miles in my 51st year. Who knows if I will or I won’t. In truth, I won’t be better or worse for it, but I might feel a tiny bit victorious in having beat back one more time the crone who seeks to claim me.

So there you have it. My heart laid bare on the eve of an occasion I have dreaded but should surely celebrate given the alternative. We’re going out to dinner tonight and I’m wearing heels and drinking wine as if age has no recourse but to ignore me. Perhaps I’ll ignore it, too, Love.

(Maybe I’ll even start calling everybody “Love” because inappropriate eccentricity is kindly tolerated in women of a certain age.)

With gratitude {for another birthday},

Joan, who has no memory of the family occasion pictured above, who can’t figure out what’s on top of her head for Pete’s sake, and who has recently started seeing in Parker’s profile glimpses of her brother (photographed behind her in the orange shirt and who died four years later), which makes her heart full to bursting

Time lapse.

Dear friends,

Some days I look in the mirror and I don’t know who I am.

The cheeks, once taut and freckled, are softer. They have yielded to gravity in ways that suggest time has accelerated, like a time-lapse photograph of a person you once knew but is now obscured by the gauze of age.

The belly, once a slight bulge, barely a cushion between two sharp hips, has startled me recently with its surge forward and resemblance to my mother’s.

The arms, once so thin my nickname was Boney, are ample now, stronger now, the limbs of a woman who confidently strides through most of her days but longs for the striking angularity she sees only in her daughter.

The ankles are distant outposts but are at least comfortingly familiar, old friends mostly frozen in time save a few purple veins that now circumnavigate their half globes.

The breasts, they are not mine. Once upright, creamy, small but sufficient, they are victims of a landslide, the effects of which cannot be reversed by any type of artificial lift. They hang around, sullen, refusing to submit to garments that seek to restrain their sprawling desire.

The silhouette, once erect and lithe, a young shoot reaching up, up, up, has compacted, settled, reshaped itself, now all curves, a pear that is a little too ripe, too soft, but still wearing a lovely sheen, a gift that is slow to fade.

This woman who stares back at me is not me. She is an iteration of me – Joan 10.0 in a line of who knows how many versions. I may not recognize the woman in my skin, yet I feel her heart beat every .75 seconds while I tell her stories, nurse her wounds, guard her dreams, live her love.

She is the woman dying, renewing, grasping, letting go, sinking, swelling, evolving ever warily into the new thing, pleasing still if one catches glimpses of the whole rather than the parts.

She knows she is greater than the sum of her parts, stronger than whatever recent frailty has startled her, more beautiful than the fading bloom of youth’s itinerant glow. Wisdom is age’s greatest bargain and so wrap yourself in its comfort, settle in, and be kind to the person you are ever becoming.

With gratitude {for that soft-focus lens known as perspective that is the gift of age},

Joan, who believes more strongly than ever that time is on her side

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