Turning fifty – a base camp on a climb to a higher peak

My ego tried to dissuade me from writing about this topic, but my muse was unrelenting. 

Today is my fiftieth birthday.

To many of us, fifty feels like a median point and society points to the number as being middle-aged. Though in reality, very few among us live to a hundred. In the United States, the average life expectancy is seventy-nine. Fifty may be just how I and many of us are wired to look upon a sum which is half of a number viewed as so important to us. Our history is built on centuries. We hate zeroes – but love them if a single number exists to the left of several zeroes in money and a single figure next to a zero in age.

There are many rights of passage in our society at specific ages, sixteen allows us to acquire a drivers license, twenty-one the ability to order a legal drink.

Otherwise, as we age, any number ending in zero holds all the power: ten, twenty, and thirty mark the milestones of youth, while forty is on the very cusp of something else, a transition of a sort. By then, our minds and bodies have both transformed like a favorite article of clothing, worn and perhaps frayed with small tears – but hopefully still retaining function and comfort.

Sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety, and one-hundred are significant and show continued longevity and with planning as well as chance, good health and vibrancy for the fewer and fewer of us who arrive to those ages.

But the big 5-0, it is an age to be contemplative. This is a peak many of us expect, from a young age, to attain. Even if this milestone is not possible for all, we always assume it is for ourselves. With luck – it can act as a base camp on our way to some higher summit.

The days, the years, the decades – in fact each second whirls by at a variety of speeds. Your first day in school, your first kiss, your first grown-up job, your first apartment, the birth of a child, the loss of someone dear to your heart, your first love, perhaps a true love who envelops your entire heart over many years.

Joy, anger, fear, success, failure. Each life is a unique myriad of so many things – but one thing is undeniable, there is only so much time. Tick. Tick. Tick.

Animals are wiser than we know and certainly sense so many things outside of our realm of understanding – yet only we humans wear watches. We are obsessed with the passage of time and live our lives within its constructs. That’s why time travel books and movies fascinate many of us. In fact, that is true of fiction of any kind, for reading or writing a story allows an escape for us from the very moment in which we’re living and the uncertainty of the future to come. 

While finishing my novel, Abel Bodied, in 2020 – my imagination was often distracted from the chaotic events of the world around me as instead I immersed my mind in the Malden Bank murder of 1863.

They say time slows down during a car crash. Life is a series of ebbs and flows. Time is constant, yet our perception is fluid and distinctive to the both individual and the situation.

In the end, I believe, each one of the moments we are given has the possibly of ultimately transforming into either a pebble or a feather… for life’s decisions, big and small, all begin either with the weight of a rock or the flight of a bird. The choice is ours. We can be weighed down by our inaction or we can attempt to fly. 

Our circumstances or our abilities are often beyond our power of will – but our attempts to accomplish a task always lay within our decisions. The result of our inactions or actions are all we are left with in the end, remnants of pebbles and feathers. 

I won’t tell you to wear sunscreen, since that has famously been done, yet truthfully you should. But I will advise you to rise higher than you think you can achieve, for we are all capable of doing so, not always… but on occasion. If a goal really means that much to you – or if you feel in the very center of your being that inaction will only lead to regret, your effort is worthwhile. There is no shame in failure. Life is full of it yet sometimes effort is rewarded.

This advice is meant as much as a reminder for myself as it is for you and others. By this stage in life, I have amassed a large collection of my own pebbles – but I am happy to realize that there are some feathers scattered among the pile that now consists of my five decades. 

The clock is ticking and the choice is yours. Are you a bird or are you a rock? For the reality is we will only leave feathers and pebbles as consequences of our choices for time erodes all that exists in its wake. 

For my fiftieth birthday, I could have chosen to be at a beach or in the mountains, but the biggest joy I have received in the past year has been at book signings and conversing with people about a project that required so much effort for me to create. At times, I was reluctant to fly. But I persevered.

I do not have a quill to sign my novel with – but I imagine the sharpie in my hand represents a feather of a sort and that is how I choose to celebrate my half-century of livng – in Malden square during a summer festival, steps away from the scene of the true crime that has so captivated me, that drove me to research and then write a novel, no matter how daunting the task appeared.

If you have something you wish to accomplish, try your best. My friends, life is not easy but if you have a passion for something, follow it to where it leads. That is my birthday wish for all of you!

Best wishes,

Michael Cloherty

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