Another year. Three hundred and sixty-five days…gone. Goodbye fifty-five.
I am turning fifty-six on Monday. I know the number itself means nothing, but society judges me by it. My number falls into various categories that label me; particular boxes to be checked off on forms. I am middle-aged; at the tail-end of the baby-boomer generation. I am an empty-nester with a certain amount of disposable income in the bank. I have “free time” to spend and could be (though not yet) a grandparent. I have more years behind me than ahead of me. All of these realities signify something — assume something — about the life I’ve lived so far and how much of it I have left.
Once upon a time, seniors were revered and respected. White hair signified the wisdom and experience that younger generations desperately sought to better understand and to leverage. But today, the young think they know better and the physical attributes of the aging are perceived as negative. They imply diminished capacity; a loss of energy, virility, flexibility (literally and figuratively), and (perhaps) mental acuity. And so, we deny and resist it.
I really don’t want to get caught up in all of that stuff. I don’t want to dwell on things I cannot control. I want my increasing number to represent the passage of time and the accumulation of relationships, experiences, and lessons learned. I am the sum of all of these parts.
My relationships, above all else, influence the ways in which I see myself and interact with the world. From each one — whether hurtful, demeaning, and dishonest or loving, encouraging, and uplifting — I’ve been motivated to become a better person. I feel fortunate that — in the end — each proved to be productive and beneficial in some way.
Early connections with grandparents, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins formed my identity as a firstborn and first-generation Jewish American product of Holocaust survivors. Relationships with classmates — and later with in-laws — stretched my sense-of-self, which vacillated between feelings of self-doubt and opportunities for self-discovery. My professional relationships pushed me further by giving me room to discover and develop strong skills and abilities, but also to improve upon or work around weaknesses.
In my most intimate relationships, however, I’ve experienced and learned the most. They have required a bearing of the soul, a leap of faith, and a deep level of trust to be fully actualized. At my best or worst, in health or sickness, and during good days or bad, this small group accepts me as I am and yet pushes me to be the best possible version of myself. I feel blessed and enriched by every experience we share.
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Having a birthday that falls on or around the Jewish High Holy Days also enables me to be more introspective. My aunt was diagnosed with a tumor exactly one year ago. Within the past twelve months, and certainly during the eight-plus since she’s been gone, she has been a loud inner voice; a very personal wake up call. From her, I understand the importance of living each day to the fullest. Because of her, I take no one for granted. And thanks to her, I’ve had a year full of new relationships and many new experiences.
I look forward to more at fifty-six.