It hasn't happened yet. But it is literally around the corner. Early next year, I am actually going to turn The Big 50. It seems quite imposing to think that I am half a century, and I realize that it is probably a little more than mid-life. After all, my dad lived until age 90, and I certainly couldn't expect more than that.
Recently in this space, Jerry Johnston lamented turning 40. As I read it, I discovered that I was unable to sympathize with him. One great truth hit me in the face: the only thing worse than someone whining about turning 40 is someone whining about turning 30. Even if it is done eloquently. So, there - Jerry!The difference is that when you turn 40, you whine about getting older. When you turn 50, you're just glad you're around to be GETTING older! It seems a comfortable milestone, somehow, one that reflects a little more wisdom and a little more patience.
When I was 40, I used to exude righteous indignation more often. I was more likely to get exercised, a little more likely to explode. When you're still 40, you still think you can do things that will change the world.
Now, I feel more thoughtful, maybe a bit more seasoned.
Yet, I'm more of a risk taker. There is something about turning 50 that makes me think that this is a last chance - for something. For even many things. So I seem to work a little harder, do some things that I didn't get around to doing before, go some places I never went before.
I go race walking instead of jogging, to avoid injuries, and I get more aches than I used to following a game of basketball. That's OK, as long as I can still exercise the body.
On the other hand, my mind, so far at least, isn't showing signs of flabbiness. It actually seems to work better than it used to. It can still store a large number of items and call them readily to the fore, and that may be what counts most. So I plan to continue to exercise the mind too.
I recently watched a PBS special on the mind in which several people in their 80s and 90s were interviewed about their active and impressive intellectual accomplishments. Unless genetic problems intervene, it seems that an active, cultivated mind can function impressively throughout life.
I have less hair than most people, but that really has nothing to do with age, and what's left of it is not as gray as Jerry's. My appearance is something I've totally accepted. I don't really mind that look of maturity.
It was Gloria Steinhem who was complimented for her youthful appearance when she turned 50. Her response was: "This is the way 50 looks!"
While I occasionally meet people who are 50 and look 60, I am encouraged by people like Jane Fonda, who looks wonderful at 51. Robert Redford and Peter Jennings both recently turned 50, and they look and act as though they are in their prime.
Judith Viorst, the writer, is about my age. She helped me cope with the previous two decades with her books, "It's Hard to be Hip over 30" and "Turning 40 and Other Atrocities," and so I'm now waiting for her greatest book of all on turning 50. Injecting life with a healthy dose of humor is all important.
I notice that most political figures are still older than I am - except for Dan Quayle, and I don't mind that. Ronald Reagan, who leaves the Presidency very close to his 80th year, made aging respectable, so much so, that no one even mentioned during the presidential campaign that George Bush was about to turn 65.
There are some super-achievers out there, of course, such as Evan Bayh, who at 32, is the nation's youngest governor in Indiana. But most politicians are getting up there. Gov. Bangerter and the entire Utah congressional delegation are over 50.
My dentist and my family doctor are slightly older than I am, and that is comforting. I DO notice that increasingly the people that I deal with in goods and services are decidedly younger than 50. When I reach the point when almost everyone I interact with on a daily basis is younger than I am, then I will have become a senior citizen. But my mind will still be ticking away.