Some of us — the leading edge of the baby boomer generation — have just coped with turning 65! So maybe we’ve forgotten about coping with an earlier birthday: 50. Canadian baby boomer Wendy Reichental just went through it, and shares a piece about her experience that she originally wrote for the Montreal Gazette.
My 50th was soon approaching and, much like New Year’s Eve, I was driving myself into a frenzy of anxious anticipation — and dread.
Turning 50 for a woman could best be described as suddenly going from feeling like the “Girl from Ipanema,” impish and carefree, to the Older Woman from “Ipa No More!;” no longer fresh and young and lovely, but at the same time not quite an ancient relic either.
It’s a turning point in a woman’s life and, yes, I appreciate the magnificence of making it to this point relatively unscathed. But at the same time there’s a feeling of tremendous loss. Some of it might be imagined and exaggerated, but much of it is real. The loss of my parents brings to light such a profound new reality for me that no matter how genuinely I try to see the happiness in things, I find everything now is tinged with a certain bittersweet quality.
Perhaps these sudden swells of emotion had something to do with my decision to agree with my husband that a perfect place to usher in my birthday would be aboard a cruise ship sailing in the Caribbean. It wouldn’t be our first cruise. The last time we sailed the seas was on our honeymoon, where it was hard to tell whether it was us or the natural ebb and flow rocking the boat. But celebrating my big, worrisome birthday at sea would be a first.
I love the ocean and can stare into its vastness for hours. I adore the way problems and thoughts get put into perspective when you realize just how small you seem compared to the immensity of the sea. What I didn’t realize was that on the very first night of our cruise, I would be struck with an immediate “ah-ha” moment, just by looking around me.
There are many different kinds of people on cruise ships: tall and short height, large and small girth, different ages, different kinds of families, singles and couples, and people living with various physical challenges. But they all find something appealing about cruising.
That night at dinner, we went to one of the three dining rooms where there are no set meal times, so people can eat whenever they want. My husband and I like this freestyle form of dining. As we waited in the lounge, I did my usual people-watching and observed a large number of motorized wheelchairs with their incumbents looking full of vigor and excitement. There were elegant elderly women pushing their walkers with whimsical scarves tied to the handles. I saw well-dressed elderly gentlemen holding sturdy canes with deeply wrinkled hands.
Upon being guided to a table of eight, my husband and I noticed that we were by far the youngest in this sea of silver. Introductions were made and we soon deciphered that two of the couples were on board to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversaries and one couple was there to celebrate finally reaching retirement. As we cut into our rolls and spread our butter, another kind of shared activity was taking place. Stories were being swapped about difficulties that were overcome, from health scares and illness to work failures, bankruptcies, and other tragic losses. But they also talked about everything from skydiving at 60 to mark one more item off a bucket list, to finding love again at age 75!
I was wonderstruck at everyone’s determination to make lemonade from lemons and to face their challenges full-on and with such grace, gratitude, and humor. And that’s when I had my birthday epiphany. I looked at my husband and whispered in his ear, “Thank you.” He said “For what?” and I more or less uttered, “For being here and steering the helm with me through all these years. And then I said, “Damn right I’m having cake tonight; bring it on! And bring on 50″!
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