Baby Steps for the 50+ years

Copyright 2006 Fiona Jackson

Not only are we over the hill at fifty, we are over more hills than Switzerland has chocolate and cheese makers. Whether we have been consciously directing our lives or passively trudging through them, the road between birth and fifty years is filled with peaks and valleys. Depending on your personality, valleys are comfortable places to live, or resting places between peaks. Women over 50s may feel a burgeoning liberation before men do. Or experience a sense of dread. We have completed quite a number of things in our lives. Children are raised and have lives of their own. The disciplines of twenty years conducting life according to school calendars are over and there is no one to take care of before ourselves. We have to practice the art of transition, meditating on things that cannot be repeated or that we do not want to repeat, recognizing that the generations coming up behind us own those territories now. We have enjoyed the highs, endured loss and change, shed our tears and moved on, deeper and wiser, still laughing but perhaps more ruefully. We have, as the poet said, the faces we deserve at fifty. So what now? In all of our lives, the last thirty years have been busy, what do we want to do with the next thirty?

Better start by dreaming. Dredge up those little girl or little boy dreams that made you starry eyed and blissful. Stay with them awhile. What do they tell you about yourself? Inside the executive or the hausfrau or the laborer or the invalid, that same heart still beats. Can you hear it? Can you reach it? Can you FEEL it? Now that all these years have passed and you have diligently (or not) paid your dues to family and society, could you realize those dreams into something that made you feel that way? THAT feeling is surely joie de vivre. I’m not saying you can be a pro quarterback, a ballerina, or coloratura at the Met. But you could coach or sponsor a disadvantaged kids ball team, or create a scholarship for talented athletes. Or take poor kids to the ballet. Join a choir or start a band. Get the essence of the dream. Kitchen skills mean a lot when volunteered to feed the hungry, or to teach the ignorant how to nourish children and families. So many people younger and less experienced need what we know, what we have learned from being ahead of them on the paths of life. So many older than us need our caring recognition that they are still important members of our society, light bearers in front of us on the path. The air is always rarified at the peaks, and it’s always a climb to get there. We know this in our 50s, and have some idea of how to pace ourselves. And part way up, if the air is too thin, we are wise enough to rest, or head down again or find a different approach. We ought to be far beyond beating ourselves up because things did not work out as planned. And practiced at gleaning through the wreckage of the broken plan to find the nugget of meaning that rewards us for having tried. The peaks of the past fifty years are all behind us. We are over those hills of adolescence and youth, mountains of home and family making, slopes of fear and competition, ridges of vanity and insecurity. The peaks to conquer at the present are probably internal as we come to a new awareness of our place in the circle of life. With that awareness should come some urgency. If you can see your future with the open eyed spirit of your innocent self, you’ll want to move into it as soon as possible. What IS your purpose -you know you have one. The unique spirit of you – what do you have to offer the world that will provide what you need in return from the world? If you take the time to find it, then you can start to look at ways to live it. It’s a valid question at any age, and a more important one as we enter the third and final acts of our lives. As children of this universe, at one with the trees and the stars, each us of is essential. Begin with your pre-puberty dreams, buried or only partially realized. You’ll be amazed at the subconscious influence they have had in your everyday choices and actions, even as practicality demanded you compromise them. Making childhood dreams the aim of 50 year old adults is bringing together the powers of innocence and experience. The pursuit of happiness is a valid goal. It will lead to a newly whole and enriched life.

If you can find a way to enliven your innate passion, practice it. Enjoy it. And then see how you can share it with those who need it. With their appreciation it will grow and grow. That spirit of connection with the present, with real society will create an empowered and encouraged future into your old age. Giving of yourself and your acquired knowledge validates it for you. Seeing the benefic effect of your life experience on others reinterprets it for you. Living like this in your fifties and older guarantees the paths to the peaks will be effortless.