When I was young, I never imagined turning 50. I never wondered what it would be like, how I would feel, who I would be.
Now, however, I’ve arrived at this most monumental of mid-life birthdays.
Today I actually turn 50.
But, now that this auspicious occasion has gotten here, I feel a lot less than I’d expected. I feel next to nothing significant.
In fact, turning 50 feels a lot like 49, only a day later and an aching ankle to punctuate the date.
It’s true that I’ve not accomplished everything I’d like by now. Some might even say that I’ve accomplished very little. I have no children, no job, no towering achievement.
But for someone who has weathered a troubled childhood and grown up to develop bipolar disorder, I’ve conquered a massive amount.
Once distanced from the rest of the world by mental illness and exiled by mental illness from myself, my symptoms are finally well-managed by medication. I’ve not been admitted to an inpatient psychiatric facility in nearly ten years. As someone who once came close to homelessness and later lived in government-subsidized housing, I now own my own home, a lovely Victorian in downtown Lexington.
Emotionally, I’ve traveled a long way in recent years, largely coming to terms with my past. I’ve accepted my parents for what they were and who they caused me to become.
My father was a criminal—wanted by the FBI, indicted by a number of grand juries, convicted of conspiracy. My mother was and still is an unusually religious person.
Yes, I share my parents DNA. We’ve lived parallel and over-lapping lives.
It’s true my father’s crime-inclined double helix winds its way through the twists and turns of my own obey-the-letter-of-the-law genetic makeup. And this seems strange to me—unusual that I have 50 years worth of over correcting Daddy’s crime by my own excessive efforts to be an uber-citizen.
But that’s what 50 feels like—a half century’s worth of effort—a half century’s worth of striving and over-achieving—of aching to be the best—of testing my own limits and stressing when I’m less than a success.
Sometimes my life, indeed, falls short of all I’d hoped for. I surely hadn’t planned on turning 50, facing my partner Sara’s relative under-employment or another close encounter with potential poverty. I hadn’t planned on celebrating this birthday here in Lexington. I’d assumed Sara and I would be living in some semi-exotic location in the midst of yet another intriguing international adventure.
Yet even though I face the future with fear of failure and uncertainty, what matters most is knowing I don’t face the unknown alone. Rather, I turn 50 very much in love, knowing Sara is the most important constant in my life. I turn 50, knowing I have everything I need in having her.
I turn 50 comforted, embraced, in love, at peace.
I’m grateful to be turning 50, knowing I have the thing that matters most in life. Sure, it’s clichéd to say that love is all that matters, but it’s clichéd because it’s true. It’s foundational—real as bedrock and every bit as solid.
So, in many ways turning 50 feels like the ultimate event horizon—the end of the beginning, the beginning of the end. It feels pivotal, feels like a point of no return. And yet there’s irony in this. It’s ironic that this event horizon, one that would seem to move me forward is ultimately making me look back, making me remember and reflect.
So, I turn 50, in the midst of writing a memoir. I turn 50, determined to tell my tale, determined to tell my sometimes terrible truth—the story of my father’s mob connections, my mother’s over-earnestness for God.
I turn 50, more determined than ever, straining toward an unknown future, while remembering a painful past.
But more than anything, I turn 50, refusing to forget, refusing to give in, refusing to give up, refusing a close encounter with mid-life crisis.
What do you refuse to do as you get older?
Note: If you are new to my blog, you might like to know that I am writing a memoir and blogging about growing up in an organized crime family. (The post you’ve just read is not part of that series.) For a list of my memoir posts, click here. If you are interested in reading any of my protected posts, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or let me know in the comments below, and I will gladly share the password with you.