The Defining Years
Who defines us after we turn 50? Or 60? Or 80? Many define those of us over age 50 as being in our Golden Years, Oldies but Goodies, etc. I have found hundreds of books on aging: how to do it well, what not to do, what not to wear, what not to say, how to say it best, how to break free, how to hold on, 50 things to do now that you are 50, 60 things to do now that you are 60. It seems like everyone finds their revelation after 50 and most write a book about it!
Recently a lady came into the Central Area Senior Center, which I direct. She signed in, looked up at me, and said, "I'm so embarrassed that I am now a 'senior' and had to check the 'over 50' box." I screamed, "Heck, yes! Check that box, girlfriend, because you have finally arrived!"
Cynthia Andrews directs the Central Area Senior Center
Cynthia and friends celebrate membership in the "50-Plus Club"
Cynthia and friend Marcee, at the top, say you're never too old for challenge and adventure!
I know my cheerleader-like attitude startled her but I had discovered something delightful about getting older and I couldn't wait to share it with her. "We are now part of The Club, a not-so-exclusive club that is growing every day. We finally get to do what we want to do! Be proud! Enjoy it!"
She looked at me, smiled, straightened up her shoulders, and said, "Really? Wow, I never thought of it like that." I shared with her the 50-plus club activities she could look forward to and encouraged her to hang out with us at the Central Area Senior Center (known as "The Central").
Why am I so excited about this stage in my life? I turned 51 in February and I feel on top of the world. It's a matter of whether the glass is half full or half empty.
When I turned 50, I gave myself the biggest birthday party I've ever had. At first I thought it might be selfish, but my children said, "Mom, it's time for you to do something for you since you have given so much to us and everyone else." So, I planned my party.
I had just become a member of a wonderful women's organization called Seattle Chapter of Girlfriends Incorporated. Our motto is "Friendship and Fun," so they were the first on my list. These women, most of them over 50 and many over 60, are some of the most beautiful, well established African American women in Seattle. Each of them welcomed me with open arms into the 50-plus club.
I think the 50-plus club's existence is a secret until you are 49 and a half. My friends didn’t tell me much—they only said that I was in for the time of my life, and I was just getting started because 60 was much better than 50. At my party, more than 150 friends ushered me into the new club. We danced all night and I welcomed age 50 with open arms.
A month later, I had an "aha moment" when I heard Dr. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, an African American professor from Harvard University, speak at the Aging in America Conference in Chicago. Dr. Lawrence-Lightfoot spoke on about her book, The Third Chapter: Passion, Risks and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50.
Dr. Lawrence-Lightfoot interviewed 40 people between the ages of 50 and 75, which she defines as the most passionate time in our lives, when our children are gone and we can finally follow our dreams. Some had quit their professions to begin their own business while others pursued artistic dreams. She spoke with eloquence and conviction, and I received such a revelation that I wanted jump up and shout hallelujah! I felt like I was in church, and could have sworn I heard a choir singing.
"We must develop a compelling vision of later life, one that does not assume a trajectory of decline after fifty but recognizes this as a time of potential change, growth and a new learning time when our courage gives us hope.” — Dr. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, The Third Chapter
I was challenged to try new things, and I challenge everyone to try something new every year. I have made a commitment to do something adventurous, exciting and new every birthday.
This year I decided to go on a hike, which I hadn't done since I was a Girl Scout. My good friend Marcee is a hiker, and she was all for it. Our original plans were to go to the Portland Jazz Festival and kick back. We partied to Poncho Sanchez in four-inch heels Friday night. Saturday morning was a different story.
Marcee took me up to Multnomah Falls and said, "Are you ready?" I looked up at the falls and took a big gulp. The sign said 1.5 miles up with 11 switchbacks. I could not turn back because, after all, we'd stopped at Eddie Bauer and caught a big sale on hiking jackets, hiking shoes, gloves and hats. I was totally warm and very cute, if I say so myself.
We headed up the mountain in the ice and snow. The farther we went up, the colder and icier it became. When we reached the third switchback, I was ready to turn back but all I could think about was someone saying "you are too old to start hiking now!" Shame on them—I kept going, higher and higher.
I slipped a few times, crawled up a couple of real icy patches, scooted down a few more and—hurray!—we made it to the top! This was a huge accomplishment for me, because I am not an athletic or outdoors kind of girl.
In all of our celebrating, I forgot that we had to go back down the mountain. That was even more terrifying than going up. I hugged the inside of the mountain, slipped, slid, and even scooted down the mountain. And on the way, I met an inspiring woman who was 67 years old. She was one of the few who made it to the top that day.
Did I mention that I was sore from head to toe for the next three days? There are realities to adventure, but the memories last forever. When I go back this spring, it will be a piece of cake.
What's next you ask? This summer I'm going to learn to ride a motorcycle and, on my next birthday, I shall sky dive. This isn't a bucket list—this is my "Pick Up List." Picking up my life and doing my own thang! Did I mention I also got a tattoo?
I am sharing these experiences because, for so many years, generations have allowed others to define how we are supposed to be, act and dress in our older years. It is important to know who you are and what you are capable of accomplishing.
As Dr. Sara Lawrence Lightfoot says, set the vision for your future. Take time to define who you are in your own third chapter. A pastor I know used to say, "If you let someone else define you, they will confine you." Don't allow anyone to put you in a box.
Our 50-plus club is one of the largest groups on the planet. Our membership grows every day. We are one of the strongest, most diverse communities ever known to man. We not only have numbers, we have wisdom to go along with it.
I encourage you to find your lane, explore your dreams and vision for the rest of your lives. As one of our friends put it, "Being a senior means vintage, not worn out."