I have never been a big fan of numbers, nor have I been a skilled practitioner in the art of manipulating them. As a kid I, frankly, sucked at math. Math was, to me, an abstract thing.
But give me a creative endeavor, like writing, and I am at home. While I have never been one to be able to correctly label all parts of a sentence or identify what needs to go where, I have always known instinctively how to construct a sentence to reflect both fact and meaning. (That isn't a boast. There are many others who do it better than me.)
Today one of those abstract numbers is working hard to materialize out of my consciousness and stand on my shoulders. Today, I am 50. Half a century. .5c, as one of my friends put it.
I have been saying—and thinking—that 50 is just a number. No parties, I have said. No black balloons. No over-the-hill cakes. Waking up 50, I said, would be no different than waking up one day short of 50.
Meanwhile, in England, today marks the beginning of the Royal London Cup, a one-day county cricket competition. This competition is a 50-over tournament, a change from county cricket's usual 40-over format. The move to 50 overs was to bring the county game in line with international one-day cricket. The reasoning, I suppose, was that England's less-than-stellar performances in One Day Internationals could be somehow blamed on the fact that their players were not exposed to 50 overs as they moved up through the ranks into the national team.
That is blaming a number, and it is rubbish. At least that's been my take on it.
Until I woke up 50 years old. And it hit me.
50 is isn't a big deal. It really is just a number. For me, though, it is a nice, big round number on which I can perch and look back over my life so far. Take stock. Wonder how I got where I am. View the highlights (or lowlights). And that's not always all sunshine.
Looking back down the road this morning, I see my mom playing “Authors” cards with me. I see her standing at the sink, hallucinating, thinking that she is washing her face when the water isn't even running. I see her carted from our home by ambulance never to return. I hear crying at hearing of her death and being told to stop it because it isn't manly. I remember listening to all that “manly” advice and going in to 8th grade printing class at Wilson Middle School, trying t smile and keep a brave face, telling my friends what has happened. I see their disbelief at my mask of calm. I see the churning ocean of pain frothing away below.
I see my high school self, making jokes, being silly, clowning because I am too afraid of real social interaction with my classmates. Afraid of being disliked or not living up to their expectations. Afraid of rejection. I see myself gazing fondly from afar on girls and wishing I had the courage to ask them out—or even talk to them.
I see many downs and curves. But then, with the downs, there are the ups.
I see my new mom proudly holding the adoption papers that say she is officially the legal mom of a 40-year-old. I see and hear the delight of my niece and nephews as I race over and leap, fully clothed, into the swimming pool. I see myself the old Maring Grace library, where I spent many an afternoon among the quiet stacks, bathed in the dusty, slanting light from the large windows, reading titles and imagining what they are about. I see neighborhood friends like Jeff, Marlesa, Joe, Cathy, Brad, and Michael; we are racing Big Wheels and playing wiffle ball or football; riding our bikes; hanging out by the railroad tracks; sifting through used comic books at the Book Center. I see coming to grips with a new way of living and being, coming into adulthood in college, learning more from my friends Lisa, Christina, and Patti than I ever picked up in class. They taught me that women are strong and intelligent and independent and talented and should in no way defer to the male perspective. I see myself walking into WBST for the first time, scared half out of my wits, and being greeted with open arms by Rob O'Brian into what would be my world for 15 years—the world of broadcast journalism.
There are many more memories looking back down that road. Closer to me the road takes an unforeseen twist and I see myself, in my late 40s, falling in love again, rising front he ashes like a phoenix (good grief, how many writers have used that tired old thing in a birthday piece), drawn up by Karen, a creature of light and love into a new life full of adventure. I see myself becoming a dad. And I see some of the most precious memories yet. Games of Candyland, bouts of Barbies, walks in the woods, swinging and sliding at the playground; hugs and tantrums and kisses and fevers and boo-boos (plus the stuff that happens to Heidi). I see many walks with our baby dog Star Morgan.
There are so many things one could write down, looking back over 50 years. But I have thought enough about that. What I want to do now is think about here. Now. Not even the future. The present. Because that is where we are. Heidi is starting Kindergarten and becoming more dramatic every day. I am a couple of months into a new role with my employer of 15 years, Draper. My dad is in a nursing home. There are repairs to make on the house. I have a kids' book out and need to finish up the sequel. There's a lot going on. At a time of life when most people are saying goodbye to their kids, my life is seemingly just getting started. So, while it is interesting to look back and take stock, what I really need to do is hang in there, gather my strength, be open to changing from the way I've always thought or believed, and keep going—up.
So, I guess for me, 50 is a big deal after all.
Fifty is also a big number for England. They believe it is the number that will help bring them success in international one day cricket. But, hopefully they will use this competition as a time to take stock, see the real twists and turns and ups and downs that have brought them here to this moment. They will see some of the real issues—I won't get into them now—and decide that now is the time to chart a new way forward. Hang in there, gather strength, be open to changing from the way they've always thought or believed, and keep going—up.
My wife gave me a birthday card that said she hopes to be right here with me for the next 50 years.
Let's go, sweetie!