I’m turning 55 next Saturday. My original title for this post was “resenting mortality.” And then I deadlifted 3 reps of 200lbs.
On my 50th birthday, I walked on a windy California beach with the friend of my heart, Linda, my own heart brittle as a volatile relationship sputtered to its end. Since then, my heart has healed and my life has refilled. Linda has had literal flames licking at the end of her street three times, communities flattened, power flickering in and out for weeks.
A month after my 50th birthday, I moved into my beautiful condo, the one with the amazing terraces, the one my ex found for me. It’s home in a way no other place has ever been, my couch covered in the two cats I’ve wanted my whole life.
That couch has hosted a series of 49 year old friends, damp with melancholy and fear about turning 50. After that milestone birthday passed, every one of them has felt profound openings, green shoots, a new voice, the pulsing anxiety left behind in another life.
The angst about turning 50 seems to me to be about “what have I accomplished? am I enough? are my choices the right ones?” It’s a crucible about legacy, about meaning, about wanting the narrowing track of options to be full of good grit, fierce joy, ease, confidence. In my world, past 50, women use their voices differently. They say what they need. They DGAF, as the young ‘uns say.
At 55 minus one week, I take inventory. My life, my body. The “home” inside us that Adriene keeps telling us to hold softly in our hands, to care for. I relish my grit. I seek and savour joy. I have ease I’ve never had. I’m confident in who I am, in a way I’ve never been.
This is almost 55. On New Year’s Eve morning, I was in Bangkok, running in a park that was already hot at 8 am. Joy in my body and my life overtook me, almost literally tripping me. I ran home through holiday-empty streets singing Kelly Clarkson “Broken and Beautiful” out loud, no heed for who might be watching.
I know I’m Superwoman, I know I’m strong
I know I’ve got this ’cause I’ve had it all along
I’m phenomenal and I’m enough
I don’t need you to tell me who to be
This is 55 — I know I’m enough. And I feel known. I’m so grateful for that. And yet — there is an echo of mortality, a waning, that I didn’t feel at 50. It’s different than the angst of legacy. I trust my story, I trust that I’ve done good things that matter, and will continue to do so. This is not the yearning to matter that came with 50. It’s a kind of … rueful recognition that in every phase of life, we work hard to figure out how to be a person who is that age, at that stage in life. We do dumb things and hurtful things and smart things and serendipitous things, and they make us who we are, and just as we start to feel “I got this” about being this person at that age, we get older, and we need to learn and adapt to new things. This is actual… aging.
Fifty five is the knowledge that aging and physical strength are two different things. I started lifting weights this year, almost by accident. Eight months ago, I didn’t believe I could lift 135 lbs. I’m 55 minus 7 days. And I lifted 200 lbs, three times. With some ease.
Fifty five is deadlifting 200 pounds, and painful arthritis in my big toe, and such slow running, and chronic weird pain in my knees, and yes, still menstruating! and inexplicable rashes, and oh, such a deep deep need to sleep.
Fifty five is the knowledge, in my cells, that the world is sad and beautiful, that we are broken and beautiful, that we are beautiful because we are broken.
Fifty five is outliving my father by five years, witnessing the unbearable pain of my cousins losing their son. Witnessing their resilience. Exchanging rueful acknowledgements that we are the adults now, made stark when all the uncles kept dying.
Fifty five is a world on fire, a teenager speaking truth to power, a plane full of Canadians shot down because of an American skirmish in Iran, a virus sprouting xenophobia and cutting off openness in an already too protectionist world. It’s a woman I coach weeping as she says “I don’t want to feel small anymore,” it’s colouring my hair blonde because I can, it’s hiking with my love and an eternal dog in a snowy woods, it’s learning to make visual art. It’s riding my bike alone across Lithuania, doing 108 sun salutations alone on New Year’s morning on the rooftop of a boutique hotel in Singapore. It’s feeling dead tired and deadlifting 200lbs anyway. Because I can, and because it sparks joy.
When I was born, my great aunts were younger than 55, and they were already old ladies, wearing pearls as they drank in the basement at Christmas. In 2020, aging is so multi-dimensional, changing in so many ways we don’t even have a shared term for it: . “Older adults now have the most diverse life experiences of any age group…Some are working, some are retired, some are hitting the gym every day, others suffer with chronic disabilities. Some are traveling around the world, some are raising their grandchildren, and they represent as many as three different generations. There’s no one term that can conjure up that variety.”
Fifty five is reading about what it means to be 65, Susan Mattern’s assertion that menopause is an adaptation of evolutionary biology to give women time to do something meaningful in their lives without pesky children tugging on their skirts, and Mary Pipher’s musing that Older Adulthood is an opportunity to live joyfully, to revel in the happiness of self-knowledge. Fifty five is knowing that both of those women are wise, and their wisdom is also born of privilege, privilege of many dimensions. Fifty five is learning, finally, to really get underneath my own white, western privilege, deepen my allyship with people who don’t have that privilege.
Fifty five is more melancholy than fifty, a soft whisper of wind among crackling leaves on a well worn trail. Fifty five is stronger, deeper, and infused with the need to be at peace with what is, to love and cherish the broken. And it’s beautiful.
I leave you with Kelly Clarkson.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is aging relentlessly in Toronto. She’s reminding you that the best way to avoid viruses is to wash your hands, not by stigmatizing whole groups of people.