50 Shades of Grey Hair
I’m just going to come right out and say it: I am turning 50 later this week. While some of you out there may have been noting the ever-encroaching gray in my hair and found yourself surprised that I had not actually passed that milestone quite some time ago, I, for one, can hardly believe that I am uttering those words. This birthday seems to have snuck up on me like Matt Gaetz on an unsuspecting prom attendee. I mean, I have been alive for half a century. Where the hell have the years gone?
After all, I don’t feel old. Ok, my shoulder has been crankier than a toddler without a nap for months now, and I do find myself making nightly bathroom visits like some sort of urinating sleepwalker, but my spirit still feels young. I still dance in my living room with a reckless abandon that explains much of why my kids prefer to be in their rooms for all of their zoom calls. I ski and mountain bike with little heed of injury or personal safety. And even though my regular bedtime would probably make even Ben Franklin cringe, I am still good for the occasional late night of partying and excessive alcohol consumption, especially if the right musical act is playing down at Red Rocks. I can’t really be turning 50, can I?
But of course, like it or not, I am. As my dad is quick to point out, I am soon to be of an age where I get to have a proctologist stick a prolonged digit up my sphincter and tell me to cough. Oh, and that’s not all I have to look forward to! Soon, I’ll be bent over more than a call girl on the Sunset Strip. My hair line will start getting thinner while the rest of me just keeps getting fatter. I’ll get to start asking my children inane technology questions that drive them to dramatically-inflated eyerolls and other flagrant gesticulations suggesting their growing impatience with my helplessness. But hey- with my memory already pretty much shot to shit, at least I won’t remember all of this crap.
Now, don’t go letting all of this curmudgeonly gibberish fool you. I’m actually quite pleased to be turning fifty. Sure, I could extol all the virtues of being wiser and more sure of myself, at least some of which is true, but I’m not here to regurgitate Fortune Cookie philosophy and I sure as heck am not going to pander to the aging demographic of my readership with vapid tropes about the virtues of aging. None of you are buying that bullshit anyway.
But there is one endowment of age that I will celebrate here, and that is the value of acceptance. We’ve all seen various posters exalting in the simplicity of the Serenity Prayer, “Lord, grant me the strength to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Now when I used to hear that prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr as a kid, I used to want to hunt down the closest hippie and beat the absolute snot out of them, but somehow as I now approach fifty, that first part about accepting the things we cannot change suddenly makes a whole lot more sense.
At almost every stage of life, you hear people bemoan the age they are at that moment. Kids want to be adults so that they can have some sense of autonomy. Teens, well, teens always just want to be somebody, really anybody, else. 20 somethings want to be old enough to be afforded personal and professional respect. And by the time you hit 40, you pretty much just want to be a younger version of yourself that you now idealize thinking it is unlikely to ever get better than that.
But with perspective and acceptance come the understanding that you really are the perfect version of yourself at this very moment. Well, as perfect as human beings get. There is no such thing as a “better” or “worse” version of yourself because those terms are purely arbitrary bullshit. And with that comes the ability to embrace, rather than just accept, the person you are right in the here and now.
A few years back, I was playing in an over 40 hockey league that actually had some pretty skilled players in it. Our team had a couple of guys who were fairly decent, and certainly a lot better than me, but a couple of the other teams in the league had retired NHL players on their roster. Needless to say, we didn’t win a whole lot of games.
After one particularly embarrassing and demoralizing loss, we sat dejected in the locker room when the captain of our team started raging. He began excoriating all us for our lack of commitment and complacency, telling us that we all needed to start practicing more and getting ourselves in better shape. “Dave,” I pleasantly tried to remind him, “this is an over 40 league, not a high school team. None of us are getting any better at this point. The arrow only moves in one direction from this point going forward.” Dave did not take to my comment well. I’m pretty sure that was my last game on the team.
Which, to be honest, was just fine by me. I had long before that accepted exactly who I was as a hockey player, and as a human being for that matter, and found that I kind of liked both. And as I sit here about to turn 50, I like exactly who I am and where I am at. So bring on 50, damn it! And give me a good cognac and a fine cigar while you’re at it because let’s face it, I’m not getting any younger.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com