Standing at the Top of That Towering Hill


“The more sand that has escaped from the hourglass of our life,
the clearer we should see through it.”

― Jean-Paul Sartre

Imagine climbing a long, towering hill. At the beginning of your journey, the summit is hidden in the faraway haze, but your immediate pathway is sunlit and clear, and so you ramble forward with joy and abandon. As you progress, though, the path sometimes disappears into the twisting darkness, and you tremble in anxiety at all the obstacles waiting to tumble you into the tangled unknown. You pause to rest and reassess, but there is no turning back, and there is no staying put–for no matter your uncertainties and apprehensions, Time marches forever on, and your footsteps must follow its lead.

Someday, ready or not, you burst through the haze at the top of that towering hill–and when you do, what do you see on the other side?

Since the 1940’s, people (usually young people) have referred to anyone past a certain age as being “over the hill” or “past one’s peak”–which, I guess, is supposed to be a more considerate way of saying “old.” Some have been accused of topping the hill at age 40, while others haven’t peaked until 50, but the intended message is still the same: Once you’ve reached the top of that hill, there’s nowhere to go but down–plummeting at break-neck speed into an abyss of despair and worthlessness, a bottomless pit of rocking chairs, hearing aids, senior discounts and industrial-strength undergarments.

Whatever.

The week before my own birthday I awoke to the news that First Lady Michelle Obama was turning 50 that day, and it dawned on me that, for the first time in my life, I was older than the First Lady of the United States (and–horrors!–the President, too). It was a sobering thought–and one that sent me scampering to the mirror in search of new wrinkles crinkling around my eyes and new gray hairs sprouting on my head. (I might have found one of each, but since I hadn’t inserted my contacts yet–and I can’t see all the way to the mirror without them–I’m not quite sure.)

Am I really that old?

Yes, yes I am.

But am I over the hill?

Oh, hell no.

After turning 40 (or 50), almost all of us have passed the mid-way point of our lives and are closer to the end than the beginning. We start to realize we have only a finite amount of time left to accomplish everything we had hoped to accomplish, and we get a little panicky. But panicking might be a good thing–liberating, even–if it gets us off the couch, spurs us into action, and helps us to finally push aside all the non-essential nonsense that we let clutter our lives. There’s still so much we want to see and do–so many more tasks we want to master, beaches we want to walk, desserts we want to sample, flowers we want to smell, kisses we want to give and receive–and, I promise you, the clutter can wait. Life is knocking at the door, and it’s up to us to throw down the dish towel, throw that door wide open, and venture forward.

There is no age limit on exploring.

There is no age limit on seeking.

There is no age limit on embracing, marveling, dreaming, doing.

Don’t forget that Diana Nyad became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a protective cage when she was 64 years old. And did you know that

  • Julia Child collaborated on her first French cookbook just months before she turned 50,
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote her first book (Little House in the Big Woods) when she was 64,
  • Benjamin Franklin signed the Declaration of Independence when he was 70,
  • Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa when he was 75,
  • Ray Kroc set out to build the McDonald’s brand when he was 52,
  • Grandma Moses began painting when she was 76,
  • Prince Hubertus von Hohenlohe of Mexico will compete in alpine skiing in the 2014 Winter Olympics, at 55 becoming the second-oldest Winter Olympian in history (the oldest was Carl August Kronlund, a Swedish curler who was 58 when he competed in 1924),
  • or that Ellen DeGeneres became a spokesperson for CoverGirl cosmetics at 50–and that earlier this week former CoverGirl model Christie Brinkley turned 60? Apparently there’s no age limit on beauty, either.

I don’t think of myself as “over the hill,” and even though I may be old by some standards (and my mirror frequently agrees), I prefer the term “well seasoned”–especially since author Gail Sheehy says a seasoned woman is “spicy.” Yeah, I like that. Sheehy, who most recently wrote Sex and the Seasoned Woman: Pursuing the Passionate Life, states that a seasoned woman “has been marinated in life experience. She is at the peak of her influence and power. She is committed to living fully and passionately in the second half of life, despite failures and false starts.”

Yes!

And as a well seasoned woman in her 50’s, these are a few things I’ve learned from those failures and false starts:

  • I know what I like and what I don’t like–and I know it’s okay if my likes are different from everyone else’s.
  • I know that the overwhelming majority of things I’ve worried about in the past still have not happened–and I know there’s a lesson to be learned there.
  • I know that a flat belly is not a given–that cheesecake for breakfast and banana splits for lunch will eventually take their toll.
  • I know that money previously allocated for adding to my collection of shoes and purses is now better spent on keeping the medicine cabinet stocked with pain relievers and wrinkle disguisers.
  • I also know that it’s much more enjoyable to spend money on experiences rather than things.
  • I know that while high heels might make my legs look longer and leaner, they’re going to hurt my feet–and at the end of the day I’m going to care a lot more about how my feet feel than whether anyone noticed my legs.
  • I know that just because I’m sure I’ll remember all my passwords doesn’t mean I will (i.e., I need to write them down–and remember where I hid the list).
  • I know that the present moment is the most important one.
  • I know the value of showing appreciation, acceptance, compassion and patience.
  • I know how to cook a decent meal and feed a hungry crowd (although I still haven’t quite mastered cooking for only two).
  • I know how to enjoy a quiet weekend night at home without feeling like I’m missing out.
  • I know how to be comfortable with silence.
  • I know how to laugh at myself.
  • I know that wearing sunscreen instead of iodine-laced baby oil is the way to go.
  • I know that everyone else has insecurities, too–and the persons who seem the most confident often aren’t.
  • I know that I’m so much stronger than I think am, and I can keep going long after I think I can’t.
  • I know that my gut instincts are almost always right.
  • I know that taking risks and violating my comfort zone will provide not only tremendous growth but also unimaginable joy.
  • I know that I’ll never completely understand the opposite sex or that I’ll successfully change a single one of them.
  • I know that most of what my children learned from me was from my example, not my words (no matter how loudly those words were shouted or how often they were repeated).
  • I know that exercise makes me feel better physically and mentally (it’s a shame it took so long to realize that).
  • And I know that the only thing holding me back is me.

When First Lady Michelle Obama turned 50, newscasters claimed that she exemplified the idea that “Fifty is the New Fifty”–that women in their 50’s are coming “into their own,” that they are proud and accepting of where they are with no desire to go back to their earlier lives. And the First Lady seemed to agree, claiming that she has never felt more confidence in herself or more clarity on who she is as a woman.

I feel the same way. I may never reach the First Lady’s level of confidence, but I’m trying my best to push the boundaries (and before this year is over, I will find the courage to dance in public–there, I said it and there’s no going back). I also know my younger self would be quite proud of the strong woman I’m becoming, even though she might not recognize me at first. Do I wish I still had her flat belly, her smooth skin and her thick hair? Absolutely. No woman enjoys looking in the mirror and admitting that whatever little sizzle she once had has long since fizzled–but those fleeting physical attributes have been replaced with a lasting, hard-fought wisdom gleaned from decades of making mistakes and learning from them, and those life experiences are priceless.

So what if I’ve reached the top of that towering hill? Standing at the crest allows me to feel the sun on my face and the breeze in my hair–and standing at the crest lets me gaze in wonder and anticipation at the distant horizon and all the hills I have yet to climb.

Photography is a passion that developed after I turned 50 . . . 

pink dogwood

The “spring” of my life may be long past . . . 

sunset14hires

. . . but my “sunset” years are still–I hope–a long way off.

old car

And there are still some things–like this 1938 Chevrolet–that are older than I am.

wine10So cheers to me and all the other well seasoned, spicy men and women
standing at the top of that towering hill!

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About icedteawithlemon

I have recently retired from a 30-year career in education in one of the best school districts in the world. I hope to spend my second life reading, writing, photographing, traveling, biking, cheering on my favorite baseball team (the St. Louis Cardinals), and soaking up glorious sunshine. In my spare time I enjoy playing with my pet tarantulas, trying out new flavors of chewing gum, and knitting socks for prison inmates. I'm almost positive that in a past life I was one of the Seven Dwarfs (most likely "Grumpy"), and in my next life I'm going to be either a taste tester for Hershey's or a model for Victoria's Secret's new line, "Bloomers for Boomers." I want to travel country back roads, singing Vanilla Ice songs at every karaoke bar and rating bathroom cleanliness at every truckstop. And someday I plan to own a private beach where skinny girls aren't allowed. I want to be a writer when I grow up. "Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake."--Henry David Thoreau
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20 Responses to Standing at the Top of That Towering Hill

  1. Sue says:

    Oh, Karen!! This is one of the best blogs you’ve written yet!! And they are ALL wonderful. This one just seemed to especially hit home for me. Life is all about attitude – we all have a choice – to choose to be happy or…. not. You’ve given me such great reminders and, in spite of my cabin fever, you’ve given me smiles today! Thank you.

  2. I enjoy your posts! Jenny walker

  3. Whoops….forgot something…your photos are amazing! Jw

    • Thank you! All three of our sons have backgrounds in photography and/or filmmaking, so I’ve tried to soak up as much knowledge as possible from them. Photography has given me a lot of joy–and tremendous stress relief!

  4. Janet Taber says:

    Lots to think about in here, Karen — good thoughts. I love the image of throwing down the dishtowel — something I need to do more often.

    • Thank you, Janet. In my case, I probably need to pick UP the dishtowel a little more often–it’s very easy for me to let simple household chores wait while I’m doing something more enjoyable.

  5. bronxboy55 says:

    Karen, your posts always make me want to get up and do something. Thank you, as always, for the inspiration and humor, as well as the amazing photographs.

    By the way, I’m much more impressed by the prince’s downhill skiing at 55 than I am by Kronlund’s curling at 58.

    • Then, by all means, “get up and do something”! You are such an exceptional writer that you must truly enjoy it, but it must also be occasionally tiring, and I hope you allow yourself time to pursue other passions and interests. And thank you, as always, for your kind words.

      I, too, was much more impressed by the downhill skiing at 55. I learned to appreciate curling while watching the last Winter Olympics, but it really seems to be a sport more about strategy than stamina (which, I realize, is easy for me to say from the comfy cushions of my couch).

  6. jeanjames says:

    Loved everything about this..really nothing more to say….except I love your photo’s as well!!

  7. liliofthefield27 says:

    Synchronicity again rears its wondrous head…Alabama Dearheart, you have NO idea how I needed to read this beautiful post today. I’ve been depressed as hell lately about time and life…ya know, love and pain and the whole damn thing thang, and your words and photos truly, truly resonated with me and touched my temporarily darkened soul. Bless ya, honeydew, and all ya do, and for making this Horton hear a Who…and the Who is You and the Who is my heart which I need to listen to…really listen to.

    I’ll expand on this more tomorrow…was getting ready to turn in on this cold winter night when something told me to check your site for a new entry…so glad I did. This blog was like savouring delicious hot and rich cocoa with mini marshmallows at beddie-bye time…well, or, I dunno… somethin’ like that.

    Time to put the curlers in, place the cat and husband out, and smear the face cream on. 😉

    Demented Tiger Lil

    • So glad I could be of service, Tiger Lil. I’ve been fighting that ol’ depression curse a lot lately, too–and turning another year older in the middle of a hellacious winter certainly did nothing to improve my mood. But every day–if I look and listen closely enough–I still find countless reasons to leave all that darkness behind and step into the sunshine.

      And “This blog was like savouring delicious hot and rich cocoa with mini marshmallows at beddie-bye time” may just be the best compliment I’ve ever received (certainly the most original!). 🙂

  8. liliofthefield27 says:

    “Just remember, when you’re over the hill, you begin to pick up speed.”
    Charles M. Schulz

    I am planning on rebirthing myself in a vocation I lightly engaged in thirty three years ago – a voiceover artist and writer in television and film. For far too long I have condemned this soul passion to reside in the realm of dormant dreams not forgotten. For far, far too long my feeble excuse was “life got in the way”…when, truth be told, the clouds that Joni Mitchell crooned about – so wistfully – got in my way…by way of Fear Avenue. Time to make a hard right and drive down a different street.

    I am 52…time at this point is finite on Earth, yet my heart’s desires still have me yearning to dance amongst stars and planets. Dance while you can, girl. Up! Up! Up! Shake it now, darlin’. Twist and shout!

    I love the quote about not losing my senses, but rather coming to them.

    Dream on.
    Tiger Lil

    • GOOD FOR YOU! Your journey, in so many ways, sounds similar to mine. I always, always wanted to write, but trying to make a living doing that was too intimidating–and so I pushed aside those dreams to become a wife and mother–and a teacher who taught others how to write. I watched (with pride and envy) as several of my former students excelled in THEIR writing careers, and I waited … I know all about “dormant dreams not forgotten,” and I applaud your decision to rebirth yourself. You go, girl!

  9. RayEtta says:

    Such a beautifully worded way to say it all, and I recognized every little bit of it being that I am older than you. I put everything almost, that I wanted to do, away for years to make a living. Now I am doing something far too often that is simply because I want to. I feel liberated! Do go ahead and dance, any chance you get, that is one thing I always did. Someone older than me years ago said that “Unfortunately when you get head all worked out and you are at your best, you find the body doesn’t want to cooperate.” Having to wait till my sixties to retire I am finding that to be true sometimes. Do everything right now, girl.

    • Thank you, RayEtta. I’m glad you’re finally feeling liberated and doing the things you want to do. And even though I still don’t have my “head all worked out” (and may never), I do know what you mean about the body not wanting to cooperate–so many times, my mind thinks I can but my body disagrees. There are still so many things I want to do–and so many things that still require more courage than I can muster–but I am enjoying life. What more can I hope for?

  10. Mary Fritz says:

    Love this one! Just celebrated my birthday and starting to think some things I want to do are getting out of my grasp. But, with renewed energy here I go and need to make a new bucket list.

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