[ Pokhara, Nepal ]
Fifty. I dislike uttering the number, much less invoking it in print. Yet…it is my number.
Fifty. Weighty, somber, numerologically suggestive, round. This number, this fifty, portends consequence—frames others’ expectations; limits how they are willing to relate to me; colors their impressions; puts me in a box. Speak the demon’s name aloud (“50”) and watch the process begin:
Wait. Fifty?! But he’s so…
[Visible recalculations. Attempts to unify what they think they might have known with what they now believe they’re supposed to know. Old and young alike, solving for identical variables in subtly different equations. Clearly age is not “just a number”—it bears significance within carefully constructed narratives. Regardless of your acting thus far you’ve now been typecast by preconceptions.]
Fifty is hefty and substantial. It possesses gravity. Having witnessed a significant swath of history’s progress (so they believe), many are pulled, inescapably, into its atmosphere of ruminative indulgence. These reflections touch on mortality; on the inevitable decline of vigor and virility; on befuddled confrontations with that wrinkledly familiar gaze in the mirror. A more pessimistic observer will descry this or that (always forbidding) sea change within the culture—some frothily churning, malignant slick of moral turpitude, say, spreading across the face of Humanity’s Great Ocean. (Note duly that this pessimist—during her half-century’s accretion of blinding wisdom—has somehow, miraculously, dodged such abasements, spared by Destiny to limn Our Sins with smug enlightenment’s scintillating incandescence. Yes, fifty gives rise to cynicism, too.)
These themes are universal, unavoidable: confronted with life’s quirky wonders—its puzzles and unexpected adventures and revealed truths writ large and small—who hasn’t pondered such topics? Of course I’ve recognized myself reflected in that age- and care-worn, mirror-viewed mask. Yes I’ve made peace with the careening Void. Certainly I’ve lived a life teeming with oddball characters, baroque plot strivings, and Grand Ideas™ performed before a backdrop of noteable historical milestones. (At this precise moment, in the moonless shadow of the Himalayas, that narrative gains momentum, accelerating into the Unknown & Uncharted.) And naturally, should I care to do so—hovering as I am upon the cusp of Antiquitude—I can effortlessly buttress all manner of Orwellian fantasies, triangulating hypothesized societal devolutions against a half-century’s shoreline of political upheavals, prevailing ideologies, scientific and technological paradigm shifts. (Whoa…look at all that cultural decay! Didja see that? World’s goin’ to Hell & I watched ‘em weave the Handbasket!)
But to what end? Why hang on the coattails of a number’s perceived weight, feigning wisdom I will never possess? The urge to take stock is understandable, but I do not feel it. Of the three options, it seems to me that backward is precisely the wrong way to look. I prefer to celebrate with yet another reinvention of self, with new forms of engagement with the world. I choose to revel in the astounding gorgeousness of Nepal, my new, adoptive home. (Nepal. My home. How do I top that little factoid?)
My only agenda for this day is to flag it in memory. And to that end, it’s time to go. I have a birthday to celebrate; friends—new and old, distant or nearby—to enjoy and toast and embrace and honor; dreams to dream. On this magnificent spring day the Himalayas sit outside my window, calling; Phewa Tal beckons; there is daal bhaat to be eaten, a paraglider to be flown, Nepali to be spoken. Yes. I’m fifty. Look at me funny if you’d like; put me in a mental box, keep me at arms’ length; shake your head in amusement or disappointment or envy; do your worst. I’m fifty. It’s my number. And I’ve barely scratched the surface.
How great is that?