yikes (2006-38)

And One to Grow On

Meditations on the big 5-0

by Butch Evans

I turn 50 this month. Half a century. My eyes have opened to face a new day 18,250 times. A new day! A brand new day, fresh as a white sheet of paper waiting to be drawn upon. If each day was a piece of paper, stacked up they’d reach…four feet, nine inches. OK, that’s not so impressive. But a brand new day! Think about what that means.

Most of us, myself included, don’t wake up each day excited because we have a brand new day to fill. Instead we’re anesthetized by routine and habit until each day runs one into the next: errands to run, a job to attend to, meals to prepare, the customary rituals that take up our time. Somehow we’re too often blind to the fact that each day is new, different, inexorably limited in number and quite irreplaceable. It’s the extraordinary ones that validate our existence, illuminating our lives like unexpected lightning on a dark night.

Turning 50 feels very strange. Surreal, a little Twilight Zone-ish. It’s almost like I’m looking back through ever-thickening glass. Like a boat’s wake, the sparkling bubbles of life drop away as the years pass, melding and vanishing back into the water of time from which they came. We travel into the future not facing forward but looking backwards, time flowing past our shoulders to unfold before our eyes, moving away even as we observe. How many more times will I remember a particular afternoon of my life, one of the many afternoons when time stopped, lighting crashed and life happened? I loathe seeing those days, those afternoons in the sun, fade away. Oddly, it seems that to forget is somehow disrespectful to the people with whom I made those memories.

Fifty is hard. My parents are getting old, something I can’t quite get a handle on. In my mind they’re forever young and glowing with health and energy. 

Fifty brings more loss than any other birthday. Friends and family have left this world, losing the game that we all hope to play just as long as possible. 

Fifty brings cynicism. The world, once so bright and hopeful and fresh with possibility, has been exposed. I’ve seen its bones: greed, fear, ignorance, intolerance. The sense of possibilities that once expanded away from me in all directions like the burst of a supernova has diminished.

Fifty is creaky. My body is no longer young. Slowly to be sure, but the first squeaks of age are now heard, no longer easily ignored.

Fifty brings responsibility. I feel obligations to my kids of a different sort than when I was young. I want them to understand how important the decisions they make now will be in 20 and 30 years, and that it’s really important not to sweat the small stuff.

Fifty brings a vague disassociation. I don’t feel as much connection to the rest of the world as I used to. Nothing is going to change humanity, so I don’t have any reason to waste energy worrying about it. Yet I have a desire to leave as small of a footprint on this planet as I can; environmental responsibility just feels right.

Fifty brings joy also. I’ve been luckier than 99.99 percent of the entire human race, and I damn sure know it. I was born in America in a grand era, likely the best one. I lived after antibiotics, the industrial revolution and modern technology and before global warming and the resource wars looming ahead. I had wonderful parents and a healthy family life. I lived in an environment conducive to growth and dreams and possibilities. I have a healthy body that looks like it’s going to last a while yet. Most of my family and friends are alive and well. I’ve had more fun than I can tell you about. For these things I am inexpressibly grateful.

Like a single penny, one day doesn’t seem like much, but when you fill a 50-year jar with them you realize you’ve acquired a fortune. Somehow we move from one age to another, from 30 to 40 to 50, in successions like the chambered nautilus sealing a cell to move on to yet another, leaving each chamber filled with pain, loss and mistakes. We attempt, in our pathetic human way, to begin anew, to seed each fresh new chamber with the memories of love, happiness and pleasure that we hope to carry with us.

Even with 50 years of experience I can’t adequately describe what turning half a century old feels like. The human condition is such a mystery. If we don’t quite know where we’re going, at least we have the satisfaction of knowing where we’ve been. Sometimes, that’s almost enough.


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