Four Takes on Fifty

Four Takes on Fifty

Take No. 1: Round Numbers

I was too young to turn 30; I was still a child,vacillating between independence and rebellion, even though I wasalready married and a property owner. At 30, I believed that love isall there is, that politics could be an extension of love, and thatpsychotherapy was the pneumatic drill capable of tunneling through aclosed heart. Foolish, of course, but also sweet. As I say, I wasstill so young.

Ten years later, I was too old to be merelyturning 40. I had buried my husband and watched my 5-year-olddaughter turn a shovel of dirt on her father’s grave. I was olderthan everyone; older than my parents, who, after all, still had eachother; older than all my friends, who still played tennis and seemedto think that life was fun. I was older than the world.

At 40, I believed that duty is all there is, thatpolitics is an extension of obligation to others, and that ritual andspirituality are the escalator we ride when our feet are incapable ofwalking. Recalling this, I feel bitter, as if life did me a bad turn.As I say, I was already old.

Fifty, which I will turn next August, feels good.The number 50 seems full and round and open. Like my life. At almost50, I’m tempted to quote the Zen master and say that the present isall there is. Or to quote the psychologist and say that our historydetermines our fate. Neither is completely true. The present, unlessenriched by history, can make us desperate for results. And history,unless sweetened by ongoing good work, community and friendship, canmake us sad.

I believe now that politics is what happens whenproblems can’t be solved by people on their own; that psychotherapyleads to insight only if there is enough will; that you don’t have toscream in order for God to hear you, but it’s not enough to talk toGod alone. Most of all, I believe that I deserve to be happy. Neitherpolitics, psychotherapy nor spirituality is a substitute for a lifefully lived.

Take No. 2: The Man/Woman Seesaw

Interestingly, my father established theoptimistic tone by which I greet maturity. He never had the slightestword to say about 30 or 40, maybe because I was such a lost cause hecouldn’t reach me, or because he was such a young man himself, stillengrossed in his own vision.

“A woman gets better as she gets older,” my fathersaid one day. “A man of 50, if he hasn’t made it, he’s finished. But a woman just begins to fly.”

This, of course, was my father’s tribute to mymother, our own Amelia Earhart who has never lost her way. Mom waitedmany years to take flight. At 50, her career in insurance had begunto drag, and she went back to school. By 60, when Dad was exhaustedfrom a working life, she finished college and became the financialwizard she was always meant to be. He turned inward, but she wasraring to go.

The Man/Woman Seesaw — men go down just as womengo up — has not been easy to accept. After my husband, Burton, died,I said to myself, “No more older men,” because why would I need them?Men find younger women attractive as a symbol of youth. Women seek older men as a symbol of strength. I wanted to meet a man on levelground.

Why hadn’t my father told me then about life’s ironies? Men get shaky in their 40s just as women get stable. Send inthe clowns.

The midlife crisis is making mincemeat of most ofthe men I know. Meanwhile, the women get stronger by the day. Oneday, we will meet again, on our own vulnerable terms. I hope it doesn’t take 10 years.

Take No. 3: Mother/Daughter Reunion

“Matrophobia,” a word coined by Adrienne Rich, isthe fear of becoming one’s mother, and it is particularly relevant towomen about my age, who hope to make peace and move on. The secondvolume of “Lifecycles,” edited by Rabbi Debra Orenstein, has a wholechapter on it.

I have become a lot like my mother. Perhaps I wasimplanted with a time-release capsule making me interested infinancial investments and the recipe for mandelbread. Were I not tobe like her, who would I be? The self-made woman is great in her 30s;she is free of guilt, a tiger of talents and desires. But by 50, thisself-made woman has nothing more to prove. My mother’s fierceindependence, her physical strength and determination — those traitsthat I once considered overbearing and suffocating — have magicallyappeared in me, and I’m glad.

Take No. 4: Celebrating the GoodLife

When my husband was 50, I made him a lavishsurprise party, including a gourmet dinner, a pianist, and guests inblack tie. My friends and I, celebrating our own half-century, areoff to Palm Springs soon, for a weekend at the spa.

How great we look, my friends and I. How luxuriousthe companionship feels. Once I looked at older women, and nearlycried. They weathered badly, or so it seemed. Now it doesn’t mattermuch at all, and, anyway, what can I do about it?

Marlene Adler Marks is editor-at-large of TheJewish Journal. Her e-mail address is

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