I attended a friend’s surprise 50th birthday party on Sunday. On the birthday card I got for her I added the note, “Welcome to the 50’s!” And as I sealed the envelope it occurred to me that it won’t be too long before I’ll be waving goodbye to the 50’s from the other direction.

A similar realization struck me not long ago, as Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season approached. I follow my faith’s Lenten rules of fast and abstinence, which include abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays during Lent, and fasting by eating only one full meal – with two other very small meals and no eating between meals – on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The abstinence rule applies to everyone 14 years of age and older, and the fasting rule is for those who are over 18 and under 59.

Since I’m long past the ages of 14 and 18, I never pay attention to the numbers when I reread the Lenten reminders that appear in our church bulletin and the Catholic newspaper every year. But this time, the “59” jumped out at me, and I realized that next year I’ll be on the other side of the restriction.

As a religious practice, I still plan on honoring the fasting guidelines during Lent, but what struck me is that I won’t have to. I’ll be old enough to be exempt.

It’s with a bit of surprise, but mostly amusement, that I catch myself approaching these signs of “old age,” just as it was when I received my first AARP mailing a number of years ago. I’m sure it would be different if I really felt old – if I were developing new aches and pains every day, or if all my friends and associates were starting to retire or fade away into the sunset. Or if I were starting to get that nagging sense that the best years of my life were already behind me instead of ahead of me.
But none of that’s true. In fact, a number of times over the years I’ve been figuring out all over again what I want to be and do when I grow up. Even now I regularly come across new ideas and adventures that I want to explore. And I usually do, at least to the extent of learning more about them. I don’t jump in with both feet to every new option or opportunity that comes along, but I like knowing that I can. And that if I don’t pursue something, it’s because I don’t care to invest the time or effort it requires – which is a whole different ballgame away from not pursuing it because I think I’m too old.
One of my favorite television commercials, in fact, is the AARP one that features active, older men and women saying things like, “When I grow up, I want to fix up old houses.” Or run a marathon. Or start a band.

Me, too. Not those things specifically. But things that would probably seem better suited to someone much younger than I am. Or someone who’s in better shape, or who has more education and training and expertise.

I can’t go back in time and become that younger person, or change the education, training, experience or expertise that I’ve already acquired. But I can certainly start from where I am. So can anyone, no matter how many candles are on their birthday cake.

With each new milestone decade I reach – meaning the birthdays that end in zero – I find myself more and more excited about what’s yet ahead, rather than reminiscent of what I’ve left behind. And I realize that each decade has been more enjoyable, enriching and empowering than the one before. I have no reason to think that the next one will be any different. And I’m pretty sure that’s why I feel, in many ways, like I’m getting younger every day.

I’m also pretty sure it’s going to be the same way for my friend who just turned 50. She’s that kind of person. And in the time I’ve known her, I’ve seen her jump into new areas and endeavors, with a big smile and with great enthusiasm. I think she’s another person who’s getting younger every day.

I probably should have written THAT on her birthday card, too.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on March 22, 2012.
© Betty Liedtke, 2012