Thoughts on Turning 55

I’m about to collide into a milestone. There’s no point pretending it isn’t there or that it isn’t important. It is and it is. I’ll be fifty-five next week.

When I turned 30, I wasn’t shaken. Thirty was the age I finally felt grown-up. But 31 was hard. It meant I was “in my thirties,” and that was difficult. Fifty-five is like that. It’s in-your-face almost actually old. I have to face this.

But first, some memories:

When I was a little girl, I had a blue and white checkered elephant. And a green and orange teddy bear who came in a cardboard box that looked like a washing machine, to emphasize that he was washable. I still have Teddy. He sits on the shelf in my closet near my old violin, the one I played for years and was never very good at. My bow arm always shook during performances, so I couldn’t control the sound or play confidently. Still, I have a few good performance memories. Here’s one: as a junior higher, I played in the fourth violins in the West Coast Premiere of the cantata “Jesus is Coming,” conducted by the composer John W. Peterson. Here’s another: I won a blue ribbon for my performance at a CACS (now ACSI) festival in high school. Other performances were not so successful per the shaky bow arm. It doesn’t matter how perfectly you play it at home if, during the performance, one of your arms refuses to cooperate. Hence my Scott-Moore-in-sixth-grade aha moment written of elsewhere on this blog.

I also had untamed red hair, glasses, braces, freckles, chubbiness, and lefthandedness. Yeah. All that. Still, I labored hard to be a success in school. To be accepted and popular and loved, and I did pretty well, I think. Perhaps I would not have worked so hard for that had home been a happier place to come to, a situation I won’t talk about here because I’m told some things are best left in the 70s, may he and his enablers find repentance, atonement, and effective medication. Justice is already done, karma being a capital b-word. And no, I’m not sorry I said that. Some things should be said at last and clearly. Gone are the days of my accepting this: “Oh, you’re just spouting hurt feelings!” That’s one of the great things of getting older. It becomes time to own yourself and your feelings and not scurry away into some acceptable ball of roly-poly fear, let me hide in a corner and allow you to discount my experiences, my pain, my reaction to those things that Happened To Me.

In high school, I was a cheerleader, took stats for the JV baseball team (Coach Kirby) and the JV basketball team. I was in choir, on yearbook staff, and was Girls League President my junior year until we moved that November. At my new school, I was the yearbook editor and anything else I wanted to be, because when there are only 28 students, you can pretty much take over if you want to. I wanted to. At the end of 11th grade, I took the California High School Proficiency Exam and moved along to Christian Heritage College in El Cajon, where I made straight A’s my first semester, but had no friends. Giving up the A’s, I had more friends and more fun. I graduated at 19, got my heart broken, had my MA from BJU at 20, then taught school for a few years, had a bad marriage that produced my older daughter and lasted 2 years and another marriage (less violence, more fidelity) that so far has lasted 26. Along the way, I put my hubby through nursing school, adopted 3 babies, wrote a bunch of books, lived in Hawaii, moved 20 times, had a baby at 43, and became a lawyer, among other adventures.

That was all before. Now I’m mostly tired. Tired of parenting. Tired of homeschooling, though I still enjoy it. Tired of the same old same old that most everyone in the world would kill for. That I stay home in my giant house and do what I want. But this is, of course, new. For decades I was enmeshed in crippling poverty and emotional pain and clinical depression and the anguish of infertility. Now, with plenty of money and time and kids and a granddaughter and a choice of what to do each day, I run into this milestone with less energy, less moxie, fewer emotional outbursts, which may have something to do with the conscious destressification I’ve been actively in pursuit of the past three or four years.

This fifty-five. This marker on my path that says you are mortal, which, by the way, I can see in the mirror and feel in my bones and my brain. I don’t feel old or sick. I feel mellow and wise, though perhaps I don’t come across that way. It is a steadiness of heart and mind. I make decisions differently. I choose differently.

I choose to be apart from those whose presence doesn’t make me happy. I choose to cultivate those who interest me. I choose to listen to religious and political arguments that I avoided for years out of fear. I choose to befriend those who need me rather than those I supposedly owe. I reach out to beggars. I am not afraid of them. I have realized the great privilege I wear because I am a straight, white, middle-aged woman of a certain socio-economic status who has lived long enough not to be afraid of dying young, and please God may I use that privilege to help, not lessen or marginalize anyone else.

Not afraid, but definitely regretful. I don’t understand people who say they have no regrets. Have they done nothing? Have they made no mistakes, committed no sins, caused no catastrophes? I have made spectacular, explosive mistakes. Skeletons are stacked in my closet. How do people live without causing havoc from time to time?

I regret ridiculing a special-needs girl in my high school. I regret allowing the students in my first class to torment one of their classmates. I regret losing my dearest friend over my books–books that, had I known it would cost me the friendship, I would never have written. I regret keeping other people in my life longer than I should have, years beyond any reasonable expiration date. I regret that I am unable to cultivate friendships, that once a month for a couple of hours at Starbucks is the best I can do, and the best I want to do. I regret I never took math after Miss Royer’s Geometry in 1976. I regret not fighting for a particular friendship I can’t mention here. I regret not speaking on so many occasions. I regret turning in one roommate at BJU and not turning in an RA and his compliant girlfriend at CHC whose (ahem ahem ahem) I voyeured from my bedroom window which was separated from the CHC parking lot by only a chain link fence. They became missionaries, and I’m sure they are still as madly in love and aheming as ever. I regret squandering my brain in unaccredited colleges when I could have done something with it elsewhere. I regret not trusting myself to understand my own needs and desires as valid, giving away my autonomy to preachers, pastors, and others who by virtue of “they said so” claimed some kind of authority over my decisions when in fact they were nobody to me, just men behind pulpits or lecterns or newspapers telling me what to do when they had no idea who I was. I regret not standing up for myself on so very many occasions. For sitting there and taking it. For door-matting it up as if I was made to be stepped on, made to have dirty feet scraped off on me, made to be left out in the cold. I regret swallowing the evangelical line that the world was about to end and that we shouldn’t look forward to decades of joy and life and success and progress because everything was going to hell in a handbasket, America was finished, and Democrats were Lucifer’s spawn, when anyone who had eyes could see (especially after 1991) that democracy was spreading, that freedom was on the upswing, and that donning white robes and standing on hills waiting for the Second Coming (whether in 2000 or 2011) was not something God wanted on our to-do lists.

Things I don’t regret are all the crazy things Brian and I have done that everyone told us we shouldn’t do. We shouldn’t get married after knowing each other only three weeks. We shouldn’t move across the country so Brian could go to nursing school, a decision that scandalized everyone we knew for being “unmanly” and to which I can only reply, “In your face, sexist pig,” but I wouldn’t because those poor sexist sillies are still making twelve or fifteen dollars an hour and probably still saying men “shouldn’t” be RNs, if not so loudly. They said we shouldn’t adopt transracially, shouldn’t move to Hawaii, shouldn’t move 20 times in 20 years, shouldn’t shouldn’t shouldn’t. It’s all right. I was critical of their decisions too. For us, we make our decisions together. Every time. Every single time. If we agree, who is anyone else? Marriage is (assuming a friendly partnership, not some hierarchical authority structure where one partner is assumed right) you and me against the world, period.

People I’d like to thank as I slam into door number 55: Dan Salter for yanking off my very thick blinders, his niece Lily whose ordination causes me to relax and realize that brilliant young women are doing what I won’t be able to, Brenda and Elizabeth for not going away, David Diachenko and Jeffrey Hoffman for you-know-what-you-did, Tammie and Nancy for being wonderful friends for many years, Valerie for being there since 7th grade, Shannon for being there with laughter and friendship in the late 80s when I was gasping for air in a deep humiliation and crushing poverty, for everyone who has ever read anything I’ve ever written and told me it made them laugh or cry or both, because that feeds me. Brian for letting me breathe deeply and laugh/cry/rant with abandon for 26 years without complaint or criticism ever. I know this is rare in men, and I am grateful.

The Romans put milestones on the side of the road so you’d know where you were on the path, how far you’d come, and about how far you had to go. I’m going to amend my first statement. I’m not colliding into this milestone, this 55. I’m on the path going past it. I see it. I nod to it. I smile that I’ve come this far. My grandparents lived into their 90s (my last grandma died just six years ago a month from 96), and I hope to follow them there, all crinkly and ancient and saggy, with my head full of wisdom, my heart full of joy and satisfaction. I want to be 90 and look back at 55 and say, Oh, I was so young then, and how many things have happened since then, and how many new friends I learned to make and how wonderful that I learned to play the cello, and how great that I wrote another book and took up causes and traveled and taught English in Mongolia and found a place to worship and people to worship with, and how wonderful that my husband and children and grandchildren filled my heart up. Then I want to see 100 on a stone ahead and look back to 90 and tell my baby granddaughter Penny, who will be 46 that year, how much of life is ahead of her and how great it is going to be.