Fifty years ago last week, two momentous things occurred—President Kennedy authorized sending troops and advisors into Vietnam, and I was born. We all know how well that first thing ended up, but the consequences of my half-century's exploits remain elusive.
I asked an old college friend who turned 50 last year what I should do to celebrate this milestone. "Look back," she said, "and appreciate this journey you've gotten to enjoy."
I was expecting "Get an epic tattoo," but O.K. Looking back I can handle.
Here then, based on my personal experience, is just a sampling of things you can do on a well-rounded journey of 50 years:
Dance on stage with a fake beard glued to your face; hug many dogs; bust your chin open; cross a finish line first; panic in a cave; wonder why she doesn't seem to know you are alive; feel a kiss down to your toes; build a garage; see your child born; dress publicly like a chipmunk; cross an ocean; laugh multiple beverages out your nose; get dumped; fall asleep reading a kid a bedtime story; learn a lesson about gravity from a skateboard; endure "comedy" traffic school; roll down a grassy hill; rock a standing long jump; install a roof; stay up all night watching meteors; be disappointed by lofty shampoo claims; regret moments of unkindness; bogart M&M's; learn to play banjo; build your child's school project for him; dream about flying; vacuum up a kid's toy and convince yourself that "clunk" was a paper clip; breathe in a hot updraft from the Grand Canyon; run from a skunk; rescue a bee from drowning; get stung by a bee; mow lawns; hike deserts; overdo the garlic; attempt guitar; dance like everyone's watching; stand awestruck by hail; appreciate and mock modern art; lie in feverish wait for the mail; drink from an icy mountain stream; yell at TV commentators; revere the humble pancake; search for meaning; repeat; read a eulogy; suck a paper cut; drag a kite across a field; duel a neighbor with yard signs; clean up after rabbits; compare double-jointedness with relatives; change a flat on a freeway; get stepped on by a horse; wish you'd stayed in touch with a friend you heard died; break into your own house; take in the miracle that is lasagna; hear birdsong for what it is; be moved to tears by words on a page; hold hands until they're both sweaty; hold hands anyway. All these I have done.
The worst thing about turning 50, aside from constantly mixing up "prostate" and "prostrate" in casual conversations, is the wacky t-shirts: "50 is the new 30," "50 is the new...what was I saying?" and the vomitous "50. Aged to perfection."
If you ever see me wearing that shirt, you have my permission to stop me from ever reaching 51. Hit me over the head with that mug which says "At my age, getting lucky means finding my car in the parking lot."
In 1961, a slew of babies were born. Looking at all those writhing, swaddled forms, how could anyone know that some would grow up to be George Clooney, Barack Obama, Meg Ryan, Wayne Gretzky, Eddie Murphy, Fabio?
At 50 we are advised to get our first colonoscopy. At 50 we are eligible to join AARP. I am not even sure what AARP is, except perhaps the sound you make while getting your first colonoscopy.
My kids have classmates with parents who have died before 50. Some of my high school and college friends are already gone too. "Look back and appreciate this journey"?