Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

The Slow, Easy Curve at Mile Marker 59

Turning 50 was awful. I stunk at turning 50. From the minute my 49th birthday was over I began turning 50 and I was simply terrible at it. In short I had popped off in my early 40’s about all of the magnificent stuff I was gonna do when I turned 50–climb Kilimanjaro, teach cataract surgery in Nepal–but when push came to shove my life was crammed with stuff happening right here at home. And I was broke. I spent almost the whole year in a tight little angst bubble until one of my patients tipped me off to the problem as we discussed her upcoming 60th. You can read about the details in “The Hard Turn at Mile Marker 49” if you wish (as it happens it’s actually one of my better pieces. Go figure.).

My birthday is in two days and I will be 60. What’s it been like this past year, turning 60? Funny you should ask. In truth it’s been a tumultuous year of change, challenge, and loss. It should have been a real trial, to be honest. In fact it’s turned out to be kinda easy. Like it was just another year. Just another meaningless romp around the sun. If it wasn’t for all of the folks asking me about it I probably would have had it sneak up on me and all of a sudden appear in the windshield..

How come?

This year should have been the one filled with angst. Seriously, there was so much illness and loss I should have been buried. Every positive milestone, whether it be personal or professional, was paired with some sort of emotional speed bump. When I was turning 50 any one of those speed bumps might have launched me over the edge of the highway, but this year they were strangely tolerable. We lost my mother-in-law Sandy just before my 59th, and Beth and her sisters spent months cleaning up the estate. Both of Sandy’s brothers passed as well, in 13 months wiping out the entire generation of Schaefer’s. My Mom had one medical challenge after another, in and out of ER’s and hospitals and finally out of our family home and into an apartment nearby. Sadly, even though her living situation is much safer, much more appropriate to her life stage, the medical itinerary didn’t change all that much. Maybe it’s just that we’ve all had so much practice at handling the challenges of the generation before us (as opposed to those of the generation that follows us when I was turning 50), but it all passed in a rather matter-of-fact fashion.

More than that, the speed bumps didn’t take away from the joys that found us this year. What would have totally derailed me, and stolen all of the sweetness of whatever lovely stuff was happening, just kinda rolled by in a “handled mode”. Now I will admit that stuff that was happening with my grandchildren still made me anxious, and there was plenty of that. Still, the good things were really good, and I felt that goodness while it was happening. I needed a new hip (not so good), but it went off without a hitch thanks to a great surgeon and the fact that I still control every bit of my schedule. Coming back to the office was a breeze, even though we ended up being crazy busy out of the gate. Instead of pushing back against the extra work my entire team reveled in the fact that we were doing great and stepped up big time. So did I! All of my Dad’s (and Gramp’s) genetics caught up with me this year; my doctor friends all insisted that my CrossFitty lifestyle needed a little boost from modern medicine. Even this passed with little more than a tiny shrug since all three of them, dear friends, softened the blows with heartfelt hugs.

Why so much better at 59 than 49? It all kinda made sense. Middle-aged guy medical stuff? Of course there was. I think it was also about expectations. I don’t think I really had them this time, which left me free to not only see all of the roses blooming along the path to 60, but step off the road to smell them, hang out awhile among them. Seriously, I have no idea why all of the indignities of getting older were little more than a passing cloud in otherwise blue skies.

Actually, yes I do. I am openly grateful for each of the good things in and around me. Those surprises that shocked me at 49 are almost all really nice surprises this time. Seriously, is there anything better than the sound of a grandchild’s excitement when they realize you are home?The warmth of a child’s embrace as if it’s been a month of Sundays since you were last together, and it’s been less than an hour? Without conscious effort I have begun to stop and take a moment each time something is good, someone is nice, things look up, and just enjoy it. Enjoy it and be glad for it. These things are mostly small, almost insignificant (the first time I deadlifted after my hip surgery; my Man Cub writing his name for the first time in my notebook), but some of them were, in retrospect, kinda big (gonna have to trust me on these). But large or small, this time I am openly happy for the happening and grateful for that happiness.

Whereas turning 50 seemed like coming upon a hard turn while speeding along the highway, turning 60 was a nice easy cruise with my darling Beth along a gently winding road with mostly killer views. I was terrible at turning 50 but pretty darned good at actually being 50. Will I be as good at being 60? Who knows, but I have a good feeling about 60, just like I ended up having a good feeling about 50. It’s great to be here, great to have so many of my loved ones still here, so many living so close to me, those not closer wishing they were, so many genuinely happy to be with me. I have what I need and I want what I have; it’s been like that for a really long time and turning 50 seems to have awakened me to that fact.

I’m rounding an easy curve at mile marker 59, arriving at 60 in two days, and I’m very grateful for the ride.


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