50th birthday report cardHere we are, 8 years after you got all wrapped up in setting 50 goals on your 50th birthday.

What the hell were you thinking?

Let’s start with that staying active malarkey. “On every future birthday run or walk the distance equivalent to my age.” Thank gawd you included the use of a decimal point.  

We were born at the end of July. We live in Nebraska. Early settler’s had a phrase for Nebraska in July that I’m not sure I should say here, but it starts with an F-bomb and ends with “hot.”

This year the heat index topped 98 degrees before 9 a.m. This year I was obligated by you to run 5.8 miles. Bless your little heart, you also gave me the option of walking that far. I could no more have run 5+ miles in that heat than I could have walked on water (a goal I note you didn’t include on your list. Thank you for that.) My 58-year-old self has a lot of 50-year-old-self assigned tasks every day so it was well past the little coolness we had that day before I got outside and started walking.

I’m not going to lie to you. I would have told every one of my neighbors or even strangers I met what an idiot you were for making me do this, but there was no one else out walking at that time. No. One. Because sane people do not go out when the air turns to hot water and the sun scalds as much as it shines.

But I had a goal and I have met that goal every year for 8 years. You know why? Because you, my smart alecky younger self, set another goal demanding that I stick to the goals you set even when they’re hard. I do not have to do them well. I just have to do them. So off I went the morning of my 58th birthday into the maw of the inferno.

You know what? When I got home I lay down on the floor in front of the fan and congratulated myself profusely. And when I caught my breath I stretched into a yoga routine because one of the other goals you gave me was to stay in shape and that’s what I’ve been doing for 8 years – ploddingly, ineptly, doggedly staying in some sort of shape that will allow me to get up on the morning of all my future birthdays and go just a little bit farther than I did the year before. Because of you, my youthful self, everyday I push myself to be a little bit better than I was the day before.

So what if I haven’t jumped out of an airplane (Goal #17), or traveled to be part of a major humanitarian volunteer effort (Goal #8)? I have donated blood regularly (Goal #19), taught myself how to hoola-hoop (Goal #36), read a minimum of 50 books a year (Goal #46), completed my first half-marathon (Goal #39) and then did it three more times, published my novel (Goal #3), written a short story every month (Goal #25) and don’t beat myself up too much when they suck (Goal # 5 “Be kinder to myself”), and any number of things I didn’t even know I wanted to do or was capable of. Because of you, my 50-year-old-idealist self, I’ve traveled to Europe alone and with others, given readings on both coasts in major venues, set out on a business venture that will help others reach their goals and basically become a little bit more like the person I hoped I would be when I grew up.

I’m so glad you didn’t listen to our 49-year-old self (the one we call Eeyore) who moaned around for months before that 50th birthday saying we’re too old for anything good to happen ever again.

I guess I should say thank you. And I should consciously be grateful for this life (Goal #1).

So, our 60-year-old self is waiting just around the corner, what should we cook up for her?

Karen Gettert Shoemaker is the author of the novel The Meaning of Names.

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