I ascend my half century mark wan and wobbly. I am shaky but upright, convalescing from a cataclysmic cold, one of those bone jarring, chest rattling, viral steam rollings that have traditionally preceded some paradigm shift in my life. This one is no different, and I emerged as if reborn into the bright sunlight of the fresh new Florida spring day that marked the start of my 50th year on earth.
I celebrate my half century on Pi Day, a funky March 14 celebration by math enthusiasts of the number 3.14 (3/14 – get it?), the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. “Pi is an irrational and transcendental number “ explains Pi Day.org, “meaning it will continue infinitely without repeating. “
Irrational and transcendental. That sums up much of my life quite well.
I am, in fact, a Pi-rat, stowed away on the ship that sailed the day before the Ides of March 50 years ago today; a Boomer born into a culture that marks things like Pi Day, and Talk Like a Pirate Day, and is probably both better connected and more disconnected than any generation before us. Growing up in Miami in the 70s, I could belt out tropical Jimmy Buffett boozer songs with the best of them, and a Pirate Looks at 40 was a favorite. In looking over the lyrics today, though, I think any similarity between me looking at 50 and Buffett looking at 40 ends at the fun of the alliterative device. I don’t share Buffett’s melodic nostalgia for a time I was born too late to enjoy – and if I did, it wouldn’t be pirate marauding anyway. No, I’m just a Pi-rat. And I like the period into which I was born, a time in history that’s allowed me to age with access to love, health and happiness, to art and literature and to technology that connects me with people and places and ideas that would otherwise have remained out of my reach.
I had briefly considered writing a Manifesto of Middle Age. “These things I will not do,” I started to write. Fifty is, after all, a sobering age. I find myself less prone to personal outrage or offense, but also less inclined to suffer fools – my definition of which seems to have widened in the last few years. But fifty is also a liberating age. I am less willing to indulge unkindness to others, more willing to reach out and lend a hand, more ready to speak my mind, unafraid of looking “silly”.
But Manifestos have an inherent rigidity to them, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned in 50 years it’s that nothing is carved in stone. Life is fluid and dynamic – irrational and transcendental! Better to head into the next half century with an open mind.
So these things I will try to do: Laugh more, love more, learn more, sing more, be more open to serendipitous opportunities!
This morning, I treated myself to a visit to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tarpon Springs , in the hopes of seeing their famous George Inness, Jr. paintings. A long time UU, I’ve always wanted to see the church and the paintings, but never had an opportunity. Today I made one.
But when I arrived at the beautiful little church, ringed round with moss draped oaks and a blaze of azaelas, the door was locked. The sign said the paintings could be viewed by appointment only. On a lark, I tried the number on the sign and someone answered. I explained I was in the area and had hoped to see the paintings. The docent wasn’t available I was told. That was okay, I said. It’s my birthday and I just wanted to see the paintings. I was invited to come to the back door.
A friendly church member let me in. The minister, in the middle of a meeting, greeted me, and I was led into the church, the lights snapped on and I was encouraged to take my time enjoying the paintings. The congregation member walked away, and there I was, alone in the ancient little chapel, with its warm wooden pews, draped with bright handmade quilts. The George Innes paintings glowed from around the walls.
How often do you get a private sitting with beautiful art? What a gift! And so I sat, and gazed. I gazed from afar. I gazed from up close. I peered at the 100 year old brush strokes, the play of light on the shiny canvass, the dabs of paint that, up close, didn’t seem to be much more than a smudge or blob, but a few steps back evoked a flock of sunlit sheep, an inviting sylvan glade. Mourners grieved as Jesus was laid in a tomb, but brilliant light burned from the painting in hope and promise beyond that temporary sorrow.
The Inness paintings proved an apropos way to celebrate my half century: in quiet reflection, alone with my thoughts, in the warmth of history and the beauty of art, in a welcoming little UU church in Tarpon Springs. A half century is an honor, a gift in itself; to wake up, 50 years to the day after I was born, rich in family and friends, with breath in my lungs, my heart beating, my mind thrumming along.
My birthday gift this year, is one I will cherish as long as I can – it is the gift of being not just alive, but aware and receptive. And so on my birthday, I will share a little gift with you: Michael John Blake ‘s musical interpretation of the number Pi, t0 31 decimals at 157 beats per minute, which happens to be 314 divided by two – in half, or, by 50%.
Fifty is a nice number.