This week, I turned 50. It's one of those really big birthdays, and I thought about it often during the year leading up to the occasion. What would it mean? Would I feel different? Would it change my outlook or perspective?
Well, now it has come and gone, and I am still sorting out the answers.
My daughter Maggie asked me, on the night of my birthday, what I was looking forward to during my next 50 years (ever the optimist, that young lady); and it made me pause and think. What was I looking forward to? What do I want next?
My answer to her was to be around and healthy when my children turn 50. Maggie thought that my answer was a little less than inspiring. "Of course you will be," she said. Then I reminded her that my own mother passed away more than three years ago.
I miss her still. While it might appear that my mother missed my goal, she way overachieved her own. Diagnosed with cancer when I was in middle school, her goal was to live and watch my sister Kathy and me graduate from high school. Well, she beat that by 29 years, quite a record. During that time, she was with both of us as we married, and got to know her grandchildren, Maggie and Robert.
She retired from teaching high school math when her grandchildren came along. She spent many hours, days and weeks with them, watching them during Vacation Bible School. While she's gone, she's still with us in many ways: in the angel food cake we shared at my birthday; in the stories my children tell their friends (I love to hearing the embellishments along the way); but mostly in our hearts.
Her motto was: Do the best you can with what you've got. Mine is similar: "If you can, you should." This comes in handy when reminding my children to unload the dishwasher or clean up the kitchen. If something needs to be done, and you can do it, you should pitch in and help.
Now this is not a call for overextending oneself to the point of exhaustion, because our activities should not lead us to collapse. Instead, it's about perspective, self-awareness and understanding what we can and what we cannot accomplish. It takes away the option of sitting back and letting others take charge while we, well... don't do much.
My version of the motto -- if you can, do -- leads me to be involved with and active in my community, to help others, and to connect with people along the way.
An article in the November, December edition of Tennis Magazine, by Tom Perrotta, titled, "Golden Opportunity," inspired me last week.
The article profiles Gail Falkenberg, a 69 year old tennis player who is still competing professionally. "Falkenberg, who will turn 70 in January, plans to keep playing professionally. She's doing it because she can. She's doing it to for herself. And she's doing it to motivate others," wrote Perrotta.
"'Older people, they say I'm the inspiration for them to keep going,' she says, 'Because it is possible.'"
Well, she's an inspiration to younger people as well.
She's doing it because she can, and that's a good enough reason.
At 50, I feel blessed for what I do have, and less worried about what I don't. I'm glad when I can play tennis, and am able to play my best, even when I lose (which I really don't like to do). I don't worry about what people think about me, and I understand that, when others respond negatively, it says more about who they are than who I am.
I am more careful about who I spent time with and work with. Trust and kindness are at the top of my list of required attributes, and I try to enjoy every moment that I have with those I love, while I try to create more moments to treasure.
I enjoy spending an evening at home with my family as much (or maybe even more) than I enjoy going out to a grand ball. And I miss my cat when she is not curled at my feet. But most of all I attempt to remember that If I can, I should -- because one day I won't be able to and I better get in and participate while I can.