On the advent of my 50th birthday, two events occurred – unsolicited, uninvited, but there they were – one in my mailbox and the other staring back at me from the mirror.
The first was the arrival of my AARP card. Bright red logo, red and gray stripes, my name boldly printed in all capital letters and the signature of William D. Novelli, chief executive officer, all neatly printed on a shiny laminated punch-out card. The accompanying letter joyfully invited me to register my membership in an organization comprised of millions of fellow patriots like myself who are “fighting for the American Dream, demanding the commitment we need from our leaders for lasting solutions in healthcare and financial security.” By joining, I would be rewarded with travel discounts, access to health-related benefits and financial programs, reduced fee legal services, and a regular subscription to AARP The Magazine.
Of course, it was the discounts that first caught my attention. But I forgot about the discounts the instant I looked in the mirror. I’m no George Clooney, but I don’t look half bad for a man my age. What do I need with a stinking AARP card? Who do those people think they are?
At least, that’s what I was thinking until my wife gleefully made the observation: “The hair on your chest is turning gray!” She seemed particularly amused by this discovery, even though if it weren’t for the “magic bottle” that she keeps hidden in the bathroom cabinet, her own crown of hair would be gray from sea to shining sea. I carefully counted the offending hairs on my chest (I only have about fifteen of them). Three of them are holding steady. The rest have surrendered to the sands of time.
The combination of these two events – silver growth sprouting from every surface of my body and the invitation to become a card-carrying AARP member – means that every single one of my future birthdays will be marked with the obligatory “The Problem with Getting Old…” birthday cards. I know that all four of my children will not be able to resist the annual opportunity to point out my multiplying signs of physical deterioration, even if it means risking their portion of the inheritance, which, by the way, continues to shrink with each insensitive comment and holiday indiscretion. That won’t stop them, of course, from buying packages of adult diapers and tubes of denture cream and wrapping them in festive packages just so they can see my reaction. I know my kids. I raised them to act like this. They can’t resist poking fun at the Old Man. Just ask my dad.
No, the only question that remains is how I will write the last chapter of my life. It began hopefully with once upon a time. Will it end happily ever after?
Until age twenty-five, I walked a meandering road of discovery, moving aimlessly from one foolish endeavor to the next, managing to collect a series of humorous anecdotes about some of my more spectacular failures, but otherwise surviving those years intact and measurably wiser than before. The second set of twenty-five years has been mostly an exercise in adult responsibility: raising kids, working hard, paying bills, building equity, and looking forward to the time when I could de-shoulder the weight of my obligations and strike out on a new adventure without risking those who needed to depend on me.
I’ve finally reached that milestone. Age fifty, with perhaps twenty-five good years to go if I remain healthy and keep my left foot near the brake pedal. It’s my turn now. What shall I do with my last hurrah? Will it be a memorial service where I mourn the loss of who I was and what I had, numbering my regrets and wishing I had done more with my life? Or will it be more like a glorious night at the Kennedy Honors – or even a celebrity roast where my friends and family, myself included, laugh about what I’ve done and what I’m going to do.
I choose the latter. It ain’t over yet. The fat lady is still in the wings warming up her voice. Let her wait. I’ve got a lot of living left to do.
So, I’m sitting here studying my AARP registration form. It gives me three options for membership: “Choose a box below and enclose your check or money order for the appropriate amount: one year, three years or five years.”
That’s it? Only five years? I feel a lot more optimistic than that. Where is the box that says “twenty years” or “forty years” or even “forever”? Because gray chest hairs or not, I’m very much alive and I plan to stay that way. I’m fifty and fabulous.
(Eat your heart out, George.)