Just about one decade ago, I began a series of blog posts I labeled “Life in My 50s.” When I hit the half-century mark on September 26, 2012, it felt momentous in a really good way, a turning points of sorts with lots of room for more. You can read my first post in that series, “Life in My 50s: The Adventure Begins,” HERE. At the time, I talked about how I didn’t need a special gift or event to mark the day because it seemed much bigger than anything so superficial. “It seems as though 50 years presents a nice, self-contained package of sorts, something to be archived in the basement. And today I’m unwrapping a new, empty box just waiting to be filled, but with what?”
Ah, what I didn’t know at 50. I had no idea at that time that I’d end up leaving my full-time office in the basement of my house to take on a full-time job at the Diocese of Albany as Director of Communications for more than six years. I had no idea I would train to become a yoga teacher at 58, fulfilling a 30-year dream that I’d started and put off multiple times, and that I’d end up teaching at an amazing studio multiple times per week every week. I had no idea I would end up leading large retreats that draw 40+ people in various places and that I would develop a growing community of people who now make up my NSS Tribe. I had no idea I would sign up for Holy Ground, a spiritual director training program, from which I will graduate in the spring. I had no idea I’d walk away from my full-time office job at 59 to pursue my true professional love again: writing spiritual columns and books, leading retreats, teaching yoga. I had no idea how my body would begin to age in obvious ways that would, at many times, hamper my ability to do things I always took for granted, like bending down to unload the dishwasher or carry a laundry basket or do the work in the yard I love so much. I had no idea that the hair I stopped coloring almost ten years ago would not just go gray immediately, and now I wait — no, I anxiously anticipate — finally going fully gray, although my stylist tells me that it’s a long way off since I was a natural-born red head and apparently we gray slower/differently. Check back with me in another ten years.
At the time I wrote: “I don’t want the rest of my life — however long I get — to be only a time of fading, even though part of me welcomes that idea…I think whatever comes next should be a time of growing in the important areas of my life, as a spiritual seeker, as a wife and mother, as a human being, and maybe in some of the less serious and more fun areas as well, things I haven’t yet had a chance to try but have always wanted to tackle.”
I smile as I read that now, because it was all true. Was it true because I just got lucky, or was it true because I worked to make it happen? Both, I would say, without question. Last night, when I couldn’t fall asleep, I lay there with my hands on my heart, my trusty rosary beads there for comfort (as they are every night — my version of a favorite stuffed animal), and I smiled and felt so incredibly grateful and content, peaceful and in harmony with everything around me and with God. And I thanked God for all of it — for the blessings I am so grateful for today and for a full life that has had its share of sorrows and challenges and hardships but that remains a complete gift. Everything has led me to this place, and I have no doubt that whatever is coming next will lead me where I still need to go, to what I still need to learn — however much I might want to avoid some of it.
Life in my 50s has been a ride and a half, and I can tell you that as I stand on the cusp of life in my 60s, I’m excited by and grateful for the freedom, wisdom and growth that is still waiting for me, if I dare (and I do). When I turned 50, I remember thinking that if I lived as long as my grandmother, I would get to do my entire life over again. Now, at almost-60, I am past that possibility, making it very clear that I am on the downward slope of a beautiful life, a slope that I hope will be long and gradual. And I could still get 40 years if I duplicate my E-ma’s arc!
So I’m going to live this last week in my 50s full of gratitude and joy, reflecting on this life of abundance that has been mine for six full decades. That is no small thing, and I am grateful to the point of bursting — either into laughter or tears or both. I’ll be back next week as I herald in my 60s with more thoughts on all of this, and maybe some fun goals and hopes and dreams. Because dreaming is free, and it is definitely not just for the young.
When I wrote a birthday post last year at this time, when I was turning 59, I said: “As I round out this decade and prepare for the next — if I’m given that opportunity — I hope to become even more Mary than I’ve ever been. You’ve been warned. More writing, more meditation, more yoga, more retreats, more spiritual direction, more speaking truth to power, more travel, more learning, more cooking, more dancing, more singing, more creating, more exploring, more dreaming, more, more, more. To paraphrase Mary Oliver, I have no intention of “breathing just a little and calling it a life.” Full breaths until my full stop.”
Amen to all of it. I’m going to take that plan and kick it up a notch. I’m hoping life in my 60s will go to 11. (IYKYK, and if you do, you’re probably old like me.) 😉 Peace out, 50s.