I’ve had more panic attacks and crying spells this year than ever before – and none of it had to do with turning 50. With the pandemic, civil unrest and the fires here in California, rounding the corner on five decades barely merited a cold sweat – or even a hot flash (not yet, at least).
Too heartbroken about everything else going on in the world, I hadn’t spent much time reflecting on this milestone. Until last week on Zoom, when I caught my neck in an inopportune moment.
I remember reading Nora Ephron’s collection of essays I Feel Bad About My Neck when it came out back in 2006 and I was a mere child of 36. It was hilarious, I thought. Fast forward to last week, when I spotted what turned out to be my neck in the less than flattering light of my bedroom/office and remembered Nora’s words: It never crossed my mind to be grateful for (my neck). It never crossed my mind that I would be nostalgic for a part of my body that I took completely for granted.
I took my neck and the rest of me for granted pre-50
So, I will now add my neck to the list of items I took for granted pre-pandemic and pre-fifty, like going to the movies, working in an office and the easy acquisition of Lysol wipes, toilet paper and children’s desks.
All to say – and I know it’s not important given the world right now – but whomever said 50 is the new 40 wasn’t considering my neck or my:
Eyebrows: Like a teenager after dinner, the lower half of each brow seems to have disappeared for parts unknown, creating the need to powder in what’s missing before the next Zoom call. Neglecting to do so yields something akin to a picture with only half a frame: disconcerting at best, downright odd at worst.
Earlobes: Specifically, the tiny hole reserved for an earring. What is now there – in both earlobes – is more of a slit. It’s like the petite hole I received when I was seven has become a mail slot. Is this due to heavy earrings? Perhaps one too many earring pulls by my former toddlers? Or maybe just gravity applied on a miniscule scale. After a closer look at my earlobes, I clearly remember my grandmother’s looking exactly like them. Some people inherit good teeth, I get mail slots.
Belly: Let’s just say that there was a time I could eat whatever I wanted. That time has passed.
Eyes: Forever, I wanted to wear glasses. I thought they’d make me look smarter. Shows you how dumb I was. Now I can’t see anything without them. How anyone over 50 reads the back of a medicine bottle or an email on their phone without the benefit of a bifocal prescription is a mystery.
I haven’t really focused on turning 50
Of course, one benefit of turning 50 during our current everything crisis is that there isn’t time to bemoan the above failings of fifty. Instead, my half-century-old brain and heart must be completely focused on the tasks at hand: being a force for good in a world so in need of it – while still somehow creating a sense of normalcy for a family of four in a time that’s anything but.
Luckily, my brain and heart are two parts of my bod that are better than ever. They overrule the neck in between them and all the other oddities of aging. My brain, which can no longer recall names and numbers on demand, is now sharper at the things that matter most to me: navigating grey areas at work, finding middle ground with teenagers, exchanging political views with those who have radically different perspectives. My heart, while still mostly worn on my sleeve, has grown more resilient and keeps a sticky note with “It’s not personal” above its desk.
I know that these are internal improvements and will not help me ever rock a bikini again, but strangely, they do make me appreciate how I show up in the world in my one-piece—feeling beautiful in a new way, with a deeper, truer appreciation of how temporary it all is.
But I do believe it’s my duty to tell the forty-somethings in my wake: 50 is actually 50. You’ll be fine, you’ve got bigger fish to fry, a country to fix and change to be made. Just remember to bring your glasses.