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


  1. Happy Birthday, Joan-Marie. From my vantage point, you are but a seedling. Well, make that a youngish oak….

  2. This is beautiful beyond words 🙂

  3. Awww… love that “blind date that turned into blinding devotion.” Said it before: your blog is a love letter to Doug. So, so sweet. You make 50 look good, friend, and a lot less scary.

  4. Happy Birthday Joan. The 50s are wonderful.

  5. As somebody trailblazing with a 9 year head start, I’d advise you to watch your footing – the 50s have a lot of really interesting tricks up their sleeves. Attitude means a lot, and I am optimistic you will get everything you’ve hoped for, or hoped for more of, as you jog yourself through your fifties. Personally I adopted the idea of having a jubilee decade where I looked into symbolically going through the exercises of returning all property to individual owners, freeing all slaves and forgiving all debts. I interpreted each loosely, naturally, but found it all extremely provocative, which was where I’d hoped the process would take me.

    Here’s to your best decade ever!

  6. Happy birthday, Joan! What a beautiful, evocative post.

  7. Happy birthday to you.

  8. This is beautiful- just like you. I’m turning 40 in April and am struggling to accept the passing of time. Wasn’t I just 20? And does this incredulous feeling every pass? I think, no.

    Thanks for leading the way with such poise, wit, and kick-assery.

    (I like how short everyone’s shorts are in that photo!)

  9. Joan, your paragraph which ended in blinding devotion made me beam. Sometimes I wonder what I would do if I looked at 50 as though it were thirty? How would I approach it. Why is it too late to learn to play the piano? It isn’t really. I just have to remind myself. Have a lovely year and I will send out good wishes for strong knees.


  1. […] the way, if you read this post, you might be tempted to assume this is all a mid-life crisis. Maybe it is, but it doesn’t […]

  2. […] Joan, who turns 51 today and is too happy to care (unlike last year’s angst-filled milestone) […]

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