In P.A.W.S. birthdays have significance. Both Miri and her omama, Celia share the same birthday in October, and Cecilia passes on her silver cat charm and dies on her birthday in the opening chapter of P.A.W.S.
In reality it’s never quite as neat as that. My own omama, Sophie died on Yom Kippur four days before her 70th birthday. I was ten years old. The December before I’d had my “last” birthday party. Double digits were a big deal for a kid, and I felt that after that I would be too old for children’s parties with pass the parcel and musical chairs.
The next party I had was when I was 16 – my first teen party. It was a disaster! At that stage of my life I had two separate groups of friends, my school friends from Barking and my Habonim friends from the Jewish youth group I was active in. I was naïve enough to believe that the two groups would mix. They did not. The only thing that brought everyone together was the awful burnt pizza I produced about half-way through the evening. I decided once more that birthday parties were not a good idea.
Three years later I was in Jerusalem for my birthday at the Machon L’Madrichei Chutz La’Aretz. A couple of my Habonim friends took me out for my birthday to Chocolate Soup and when I came back to the Machon they had prepared a surprise party for me and this card.
That year on my birthday I was happy!
At 30 a lot of my friends were starting to feel their age, but I had recently met the man who would become my husband and he was 42 (the meaning of life), so 30 didn’t seem such a big deal to me.
At 40 I had another less than successful birthday party, with a new collection of friends who didn’t really mix well together – you think I’d have learnt my lesson after so many years.
So now I’m 50 and I truly don’t know what I feel about it. So I did what any self-respecting blogger would do and asked my friends. Exactly 42 friends on my friend list on Facebook are turning 50 this year. So I wonder what does half a century mean to everyone?
Tarquin named the conversation “50 years of Blood Sweat and Tears” – and it seemed apt. No one’s lives are perfect, and often it’s those difficult times that leave the biggest marks, but also make us stronger.
Here is a selection of the responses I received:
“Another year older for me. Boring I know, but it is just a number. But if I plan to celebrate mine, I’d like to go on a one in a lifetime holiday.” (Tarquin, UK)
“Just one word – Ugh.” (Robin, USA)
“Half a century. Or half a telegram from the Queen.” (Wayne, UK)
“I am the same age as Dr. Who, James Bond, and Elric of Melnibone. That makes me the perfect age, as far as I’m concerned.” (Misha, USA)
“My brain tells me that I am not 50 but body says differently. Is 50 middle age, or the new 40?” (Anita, UK)
“The first half century is just for practice–it doesn’t count.” (Misha, USA)
“What does being fifty mean? The realisation that I really have grown up, and being young again is not so much a non-option as a non-reality. (Ray, Canada)
“It’s taken all these years and I still don’t know where I’m at.” (Lorraine, UK)
“I think when you truly know where you are you stop looking, and it is the looking that keeps us going forward, what happens when you get where you are going?” (Ray, Canada)
“I think I’m at the point in my life when I have stopped looking for anything specific and just being open to all the strange and wonderful things that I run across.” (Misha, UK)
“I have no idea what it means. I turned 50 myself a few days ago as does my brother in law tomorrow. When contemplating what I could get for him I realized the best present would be another 50 years. This, unfortunately, is out of my budget.” (Martyn, USA)
“It’s a great milestone. I have clear memories of some periods of my Habo days and school days as if it were yesterday but can’t remember what I did last month! Living my life away from my birthplace somehow makes me feel younger than 50. Living in Oz and it’s outdoor lifestyle allows me to breathe.” (Howard, Australia)
“Still enjoying the last few months of my first half century. Living in blissful denial.” (Yael, Israel)
“Having hit the half century 3 months ago it really makes no difference, it’s just a number. I live in the same street as I did as a child. My own family has grown and I now have an amazing granddaughter as well as my 2 own children, who I am extremely proud of. I am still as crazy as when I was young and surprisingly, 50 now seems the new 25!!!!” (Mary, UK)
“I turned 50 last month and realised that in the last couple of years I’ve actually started doing all the things I wanted to do before I had a family. I’ve achieved my degree, trained to be a primary school teacher and am now finally learning to drive. Having said that I am immensely proud of my 5 children and their achievements. Here’s to the next 50 for us all.” (Leigh, UK)
“Well I turned 50 last month and I made the most of it. It was an excuse to party . I also found it was a time that I started thinking about all my friends, old and new. The other milestones in my life and my kids. The 40s were very tough so I hope to make the most of the 50s.” (Liz, UK)
“My idea of being 50 is to reap the benefits of the work, hardships, and tough times we all go through with bringing up families, living costs etc. But the hardest is to say goodbye to people – parents, relatives, friends. God willing I am looking forward to the children settling down and being ‘Granny M’” – (Manjit, UK)
So once more I’ve done what I tried to do several times when I was younger. I’ve brought together a group of folk from different parts of my life, but this time it seems to have worked, because we all have a half-century in common.
I’ll end here with a comment from Leigh:
“50 is a very good age to be. I can’t remember feeling better about my age than I do now.”
Happy Birthday to everyone who turns 50 this year or next – and if you have reached or are about to reach the half-century milestone please share your thoughts on what it means to you. I’d love to hear from you.