In a week from now I'll have lived a half-century. Turning 50 is something people do all the time, and never without some trepidation or at least reflection. What surprises me, though, is just how calm I feel about it. Guess I've been anticipating the moment for the past year if not more, so it's actually a bit anticlimactic.
Or is it? Am I just saying that to calm myself down?
In the greater scheme of things, what makes my 50th birthday momentous must be the fact that I wasn't always expected to live to my teens. In the dark ages when I was born, doctors didn't know what to make of my sluggish infantile development. I failed to sit. I was a floppy baby. Many diagnoses were pinned on me by way of explanation. Perhaps chief among the accomplishments I would never attain: adulthood.
In memory, my parents never believed that stuff. They held to what must have been a romantic ideal--that I would grow up and, moreover, could become anything I wanted. And fortunately, I didn't want to become anything I couldn't. I knew I wasn't going to be an athlete, for instance, and when MDA--in that early-1970s telethon ad I've done my best to make famous (or infamous, really)--declared that I wanted to be a fireman "if" I grew up, I balked at the absurdity of it! I wanted to be a scientist, a detective, maybe a starship captain. I had bigger fantasies! And yes, I saw myself as more brain than braun.
Which is not to say that I didn't have fantasies of physicality, too. In fact, I frequently imagined chasing after bad guys--running and jumping and fighting like my heroes on TV. It was just that I saw these uncharacteristic activities as add-ons, a vague sense of unrealized potential, but not as regular or likely scenarios in my future.
After all, though Capt. Kirk was more than capable of kicking ass, that wasn't why he was captain, really, was it? He was captain because he knew how to be in charge, knew how to think outside the box. He was smart and daring. Had leadership qualities … which my teachers said I possessed as well.
And so I went on expecting whatever my version of a normal life was. I boldly went to Harvard. I boldly fell in love and my girlfriend and moved across country. I boldly looked for work and, failing, boldly tried to publish novels. Got married to that girlfriend, too.
I gave up the dream of ever being dubbed a wunderkind when I turned 30. Three years later I became a father, a miracle that was repeated three years after that. By and by I found occasional work as a writer. In time, technology caught up with me. Thanks to the Internet and voice-recognition computers, I was able to write more, more quickly than ever before, and do independent online research, submitting my writing without needing others to deliver it.
Disability rights kept up with me, too. It gave me a community, a sense of history, and a new subject to write about.
Still, there have been many times over the past 50 years when I doubted I would make it to this landmark. Bad asthma and bronchitis have periodically undermined my optimism. Occasional hospitalizations--especially the series of unfortunate events that took up most of late-2007 and 2008--brought me closer to that "undiscovered country" than I'd like to be ever again. Yet somehow I'm still here, despite occasionally wondering how much longer.
Are there still things to do? Of course!
Besides the personal goals of seeing my children grow up and so forth, I held in my heart for many years the dream of publishing a book. A real book, distributed by a real publisher. Three months ago, that dream became a reality.
I'm still not quite believing it's true, still in the midst of trying to promote that book, still incredibly emotionally fragile over its rises and falls in the Amazon rankings and elsewhere. If I get a good review, even in some obscure Web site, I feel complete as a person. If there's a lull and the book seems likely to die of neglect, I die a little inside, too. I'm like the high school nerd waiting breathlessly for a smile from the popular blonde cheerleader.
So here I am, nearly 50, maturing but with definite strains of immaturity. And for those of you keeping track, yes, my birthday this year falls on Thanksgiving--as it did when I was born. It happens that way every few years.
This time, however, I meet my birthday with many of my life's dreams achieved and nothing to look back on with regret. My only real fear now is, what will be my next set of dreams, goals, disappointments, and accomplishments? Because turning 50 shouldn't be just an endpoint; it should also mark a new beginning. Yes? You think?