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Updated: Mar 16, 2021

The 50th year, 1969

By Jack Youngerman

Mixed media on canvas

There are those readers that are older than me and there are those much younger. So, the prospect of being 50 has varying perceptions to those both young and old. To those older that number means less than the next impending round number. Perhaps something meaningful may have happened to that individual as they ushered in their 5th decade. Maybe the birth of their 1st grandchild, early retirement, or they must deal with a significant loss. Either way, by all rights, they’ve entered the last third of their life. There’s a lot of quiet moments spent in appreciating their current station in life or reflecting on all the sidesteps and missed opportunities. For these folks remembering 50 is like me now looking back on 25 or 30.

To those younger it’s much different. The dreams that fill their heads and fuel their endeavors are grand and plentiful.

Me circa 1986

Younger folks see 50 as over the hill and nearing the end. They envision big houses, children or grandchildren. They fantasize about world travel and lucrative careers that are rewarding, as well they should.

Then there’s me along with those in their mid-forties. Suddenly you’re faced with an itemized list of all that you are and all that you are not. Trying to sustain a positive outlook while quelling feelings of failure and inadequacy, hopefully this finds you. I’m not trying to be a bummer, I swear. I think it’s natural to be in your 40s and contemplate just where you are, where you’ve been and just how long of a road that’s left to traverse. We are taught from early childhood to “reach for the stars” so the expectations are lofty and most often unreasonable. No teenager aspires to sell insurance or to settle into a middle management in a trucking company, no offense to either. Otherwise we’d all be rock-stars, movie-stars or professional athletes. These notions are a trap, a slow methodical snare that tethers us to the often-unrealistic goals that could never be attained. The myth is you can do anything, which has little truth. Everyone’s starting blocks are not at the same point on the track, nor is equal distance to the finish line. I’m not moping or making excuses. It’s just we don’t give ourselves the due credit for our accomplishments and tend to wallow to long in our shortcomings. I find myself repeating the negative loop, knowing I’m doing myself no favors. We rarely live up to our expectations. That’s why bucket lists were invented, I guess.

Shan and me circa 1997

Anyhow I find myself reconciling all that nonsense. I’m not even getting into the slow physical decline of things either. I’m in a gym 2-3 times a week and I’m running out of gas everyday by 3 pm and regularly hurt my back just getting off the couch.

So, this whole post is a swim in Lake Me and I apologize. Again, there are those that remember how turning 50 felt, those that can’t imagine, and the rest of us trying to escape the purgatory of our midlife. I won’t be hiking Machu Picchu this week or having some grand party in a ballroom with friends flying in from out of town and a brood of coworkers. I will be celebrating quietly with my wife of 24 years and focusing on what’s important, reconnecting.

We have birthdays every year but, from 40 on, no one cares unless there’s a zero at the end of it. So, by all rights, I’ve got 2 or 3 thorough rants left. Not that I’ll be writing a blog when I’m 70 because in 20 years I’ll be living in space, (there’s something to look forward to, since I got shortchanged on flying cars), or I’ll be a technological abolitionist against our robot overlords. We are products of all we let in. The joy, love, loss, grief, anger, and release that colors our perceptions of who we are and what we mean to those in our lives. The influence we can have on those we have casual everyday contact with or even the chance encounters of complete strangers like that of the Butterfly Effect, having profound effects on those individuals for which the impact we’ll never see. Subtle transparencies of watercolors that slowly bring our lives into focus, (there’s your painting reference).

I still may hike Machu Picchu someday, or I may not. I may eventually put that dream to bed. I may instead learn to cherish the fact that I made as far as I did, considering where my starting blocks were placed. Having raised sons into men with my wife whom I’ve been married my whole life.

Perhaps the façade of self-worth isn’t attained in some far away ruins or otherwise exotic location but instead teaching my grandchild the precise beauty of a tertiary palette mixed in oils and linseed or learning to snap off a wipeout 12-6 curveball with 2 strikes.

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