I’ve been lying about my age for a long time now. When I was living in New York City and working in the fashion industry I added five years to my thirty so that the men I worked with might take me more seriously. As if. I was more than a little naive but that was twenty years ago and I don’t have to lie any more. At last, I am finally fifty.
I’m still not sure why there is so much fuss and fear attached to turning fifty. I accept that we’re closer to the end of our lives and maybe we’re just inching towards our last “fu**able day,” something Amy Schumer learns a bit about from Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tina Fey and Patricia Arquette but why focus on that when there's plenty more life to live?
Granted, their's is a Hollywood picnic and a scripted send off for Julia’s vagin. The video does as much to perpetuate the fear of fifty as it does to dispel it. Hitting it head on and blasting it out of the park, these women are anything but “un-f**kable.” Sure, they won’t be playing the lead role of the young starlets but I don’t think they really expect to…I mean, seriously what fifty year old in her right mind would have an expectation to be the 20-something hottie? These ladies are all but dried up and could do anything they want - direct, produce, write, do nothing at all, date the pool boy - and more to the point, what fifty year old wants to be the “mutton dressed up as lamb”? Ugh, just think of all that stupid work and the energy involved making yourself look younger and denying yourself the truth, the beautiful truth that you have lived, and loved, and longed for fifty years on this planet?
Being fifty offers up a chance to just get over it [if you haven't already done so]…to ditch all those hang ups and negative judgments about yourself and others and to realize that being perfect is just not good enough. There’s plenty of books and songs about this very subject and ditching perfect is about as liberating as it gets – witness Dreyfus chug that pint of melted ice cream. Chug! Chug! Chug! We don’t have to take the chugging literally but we can certainly lighten up a bit and let go of the pressure always to be perfect, and just settle into …being ourselves, beautifully broken and perfectly cracked.
Being Fifty doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to feel good about yourself. It shouldn't involve putting your wrinkles and stretch marks and aching bones under the microscope. In fact, it’s just the opposite. It’s a turning point, a chance to turn yourself inside out and bring all that good stuff from deep down inside and put it out there…and put it to good use. Who cares if people don't like what they see? It has less to do with what other people think and everything to do with what you want to show to the world after fifty years living and breathing and being human.
Never has this been made clearer to me than on my fiftieth birthday when I received a few very special gifts, each one of them meaningful and profound…and each one offering me a glimpse at how I look at myself and how others I love perceive me.
The first gift came from my brother - a lithograph by Lillian Westcott Hale. She was one of America’s most successful impressionist painters. Born in 1881 in Hartford Connecticut, she studied under American impressionist painters Edmund Tarbell, William Merritt Chase and Philip Leslie Hale, whom she later married. The poignancy of receiving this gift one morning in a garden filled with dappled sunlight did not escape me. There I was standing at The Bee & Thistle Inn - neighbor to The Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Connecticut and not far from Westcott-Hale’s birthplace - holding the yet unwrapped present and crying as my brother pulled away and headed south.
When I later unwrapped the present, I gasped at the gentle sketch, a tender depiction of a woman in front of a window, safe inside her home yet exposed to the outside world. There is a stillness to the image, a quiet balance that draws us in, begging the question who is she? William McGregor Paxton, an American painter and instructor who embraced the Boston School paradigm and was co-founder of The Guild of Boston Artists, said that Lilian Wescott Hale drew with butterfly's wings. And he’s right...
The woman’s dress is layered, but not heavy. She shares the space before an unadorned window with only a swan planter and a barely discernible orchid: the swan - forever a symbol of awakening the power of self, balance, grace, and inner beauty. The orchid - a powerful symbol of love, beauty and strength. Her hand hesitates, caught in a moment, whether to reach out or hold back and there she is, suspended in that natural light born of butterfly wings. There are no curtains or furnishings or broad strokes to distract from this quiet space that is all her own. She is exposed but contained, vulnerable but strong.
My brother knows me well. Very well.
That in itself makes this gift remarkable and special but uncanny, too, for Westcott Hale’s work is hanging in The Griswold Museum right next door to the inn where I now work and where I first held this image and accepted its beautiful message.
The second gift, another treasure, arrived from a new friend, Vicky Cooley - someone who, unlike my brother, has not known me all my life, some one whose magic mingles with mine in friendship and trust and wonder of this world. Vicky and I work together and despite our age difference, we seem to be asking the same questions about ourselves and the world around us.
Her hand-painted card with Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese carefully hand-scripted inside will be framed and forever treasured. The image she chose to paint was a simple water color of a paddle boarder, her broad hips and strong legs heading out and away. There is a balance and stillness to the image which so closely aligns with Westcott Hale’s image…a woman alone with her thoughts, balancing, in the moment. My new friend is perceptive.
....Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting - over and over announcing your place in the family of things.
- Mary Oliver, Wild Geese
The third gift came from my son and my heart sings with his observations. My son knows me like no one else on this planet.
Fifty Things About Mummy is comprised of lists he wrote and typed and pasted to a board that he framed with driftwood we collected on Pleasant Bay beaches; nuts and bolts and metal bits from his father’s work shop and from my father’s too; seashells and mermaid purses; and words, fabulous words he chose to describe me: Loving, Caring, Best Cook, Adventurous, Funny, Good Worker, Doesn’t Know Fractions, Good Photographer, Likes Talking, Best Bed Maker, Likes Meditation, Gets Cold, Sleeps A Lot, Creative, Smart, Dresses Nicely, Doesn’t Like Surprises, Good at Lacrosse, Takes me Everywhere, Good Swimmer, LOVES reading, excellent writer, Good Driver, Best Clothes Washer, Worst GPS user, likes sunbathing, eats healthy, not over-protective, does things thoroughly, good tick spotter, doesn’t shoot guns or bows, knows when Dad’s not dressed well, thinks I’m a dare devil, likes things to smell nice, has a good sense of style, loves most animals especially Labradors, BEST back rubber, likes kimchi, good walker, buys cool sneakers for me, good runner, knows French, enjoys paddle boarding, likes to order and arrange things, not always patient, has a good nickname [C-A], Loves her Audi, likes good music, is 50 years YOUNG.
And there you have it…these are the fifty things about me that break my heart open with joy and knowing that finally at fifty, I can just be me …and what’s so scary about that?
Sometimes, you just have be brave enough to love all that’s scary and beautiful about you. Go on, Good Girl, love every precious moment and every year of you!!!