Happy Birthday, class of '78

Another friend turns fifty today. This is the year. We feel stunned by the passage of time, and equally stunned by the sense, when we talk to each other, that no time at all has passed. The more those two sensations grow, the more I understand the meaning of the word "eternity." All times are this time. There is only now, and now is always. That's what it feels like.

In our youth-adoring, productivity-chasing, nervous culture, it can be hard to know what being fifty is for. We're not quite ready (even if we could just walk away from jobs and kids) to pack up the motor home, don red hats, and set out for the nearest park with senior discounts at the gate. I'd like to think that "my" graduating class won't ever want to do that, but who knows? Maybe in another 25 years, it'll look more reasonable to some of us.

But we're not kids either. Our bodies remind us - daily - usually first thing in the morning - that we're not kids. Not young. Not anymore.

So who are we? What are we for right now?

I have been thinking about it, and I think we're for happiness. It's becoming easier (even for me) to assert this, in the face of the long and growing list of books on the topic. Gretchen Rubin has made a veritable industry of the studies and the practical aspects of the idea of happiness. University professors are studying it, and the sciences of the neurobiology, sociology, and psychology of happiness are joining hands with the tried and true and the folkloric to make a ring around the rosy view of life -- in the front yard of reality this time. Now that the generation of people blissed out on psychedelic drugs has reached retirement age, a whole crop of people has started to study the very notion of being happy.

This makes sense to me. After all, it is the baby and the small child who so quickly draw the conclusion that the missing parent is gone forever and the new state of the world is one of isolation and separation. And it is the teen who really believes, in every quivering, shaking, outraged fiber of her shouting being that, "my mother is ruining my whole life!" At the age when many people have young children of their own, the lasting effects of breast feeding or not breast feeding, co-sleeping or Ferberizing the poor child (who's too young to tell you how heartless you are), using cloth or disposable diapers ... it all seems so very, very, very lasting in importance. And then we get to the question of education - and (egad! already?) - for some of us by this time - dating and relationships and college and pairing off -- and how on earth did all of this happen so quickly? Can I really be this old already?

That's what it is to be fifty. Too young to be really old ... but old enough to know, from experience alone, that "this too shall pass." And, "Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be" (Abraham Lincoln), and we know now that we should "never complain, never explain," and we can even believe that "pretty is as pretty does." We've reached the age of the wisdom of proverbs and sayings, and if we have paid attention, fifty is old enough for happiness. And happiness is now.

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