it’s going to be the Pyrenees, damn it!
I’m turning 50 this July. According to my husband, writer Michael Poore, comedian Louis C.K. once stated that when you turn 50, “you’re a candidate” (for death). I had one friend hide under the covers all day on her 50th birthday. Another’s husband forbid his family from even mentioning his birthday that year.
And it’s scary. Scarier than I anticipated. Last month, for the first time since publishing this blog, I did not crank out a monthly post. My dear friend of 33 years, Paul, died on January 28th after a brief, unexpected illness, at age 50, and I was mourning his loss so deeply that I didn’t have the mental/emotional energy to write it. I now consider it a moment of silence on his behalf.
I had really anticipated that Paul and I would still be talking and laughing together in our “twilight years.” (For you youngin’s, 50 is “middle age,” believe it or not.) His premature demise set up an unwanted comparison in my head. To use the vernacular, “shit’s getting real.” The closer that I get to this milestone number, in fact, the more mixed my feelings become.
Thirty bothered me because I had set goals for myself that I hadn’t achieved, and I was disappointed in myself. Forty, the number that is supposed to be upsetting, in contrast, didn’t faze me. Overall, I’ve loved my 40’s — it has been my best and happiest decade so far, personally and professionally. Now, though, and especially since Paul’s passing, I am zooming in the lens on my life.
I had decided a few years ago that I want to walk a stretch of El Camino de Santiago from France into Spain (the “French Way,” as the route is dubbed) for my big birthday. As the plan developed, I thought that I’d make a career decision on the road — whether to stay in academia full time or leave to write. Well, I made that decision early — last fall, instead. I’ve begun my second career and am loving it!
I also knew that I would be saying good-bye to my first 50 years and hello to the “second” 50. For me, that means traversing the Pyrenees, touring Pamplona during San Fermin, and then crossing a bridge, entering Los Arcos, Spain, on my birthday. Road, bridge, arches — heavy-handed symbolism, I know, but hey, I mean business here! I will journal for my memoir project along the way. And as I do, I plan to shed remnants of haunting past dysfunction, toxic people, boundary issues, and regrets that you’re not supposed to have.
Almost every year at the AWP conference, my friend and writing peer, poet Parneshia Jones, and I see one another at the Bookfair and catch up; for the past two years, she’s told me to go “Do you!” And more and more as the years have progressed, I have learned to “do me.”
But now, I want to “do me,” casting aside remaining societal expectations placed upon me that don’t work for me as much as humanly possible. “A free spirit never grows old,” after all. Along my sojourn, I want to breathe deeply and appreciate the blessing that is my own mental, emotional, and physical health. And I want to steel myself up for what is ahead, which includes accepting and best adapting to the sense of loss that is involved in aging and making overdue, long-term changes in terms of self-care level (diet, exercise, rest, and stress reduction) that will help to maximize my health in the years to come.
It also means readying to throw myself into work needed to achieve family goals of moving to a larger house and paying for our daughter’s college education, which will begin in five ever-so-short years. More importantly, it means being mindful of and cherishing those five remaining years of her adolescence, living under the same roof as Mike and I.
Moreover, it means remembering to use my power as an intelligent, capable, seasoned woman to help future generations. I worry so much about the world that is being handed to the Millennials, iGeneration, and Gen. Alpha that it makes me want to cry. I want to make certain that I have the presence of mind to use my time to mentor, write, otherwise protest, and behave in ways that will be the most beneficial.
When my mom was old and my dad already long dead, she said more than once that people speak highly of the “golden years” but that sometimes “they aren’t so golden.” I want to walk El Camino into 50, embracing the ecstatic experience, while I am able-bodied, and later, know that I didn’t miss the chance to seize making the memory.