To be 50 is nifty

jerusalem | Mazel tov to my friend Moishe on having reached the big 5-0. It’s a day, I know, you’ve looked forward to with much anticipation, ranking right up there with your tonsillectomy and the first time you got fired from a job.

Oh, I know, the words “I am now 50” are sort of stuck in your throat, aren’t they? But let me tell you, pal, the best thing to do is simply face it. Sort of like what they say when you fall off a horse — you gotta get right back on the nag.

Trouble is, of course, you’re likely to find it now more increasingly difficult to get onto a bicycle, let alone a horse, but that’s beside the point.

Anyway, Sandy and I are very happy to be here to help you get through this. I must be honest, though, and tell you that deciding on an appropriate gift was no picnic.

We flirted with the idea of a joke gift, you know, like a cane, but decided that it would be in bad taste. By the way, that’s a real classy looking one we saw stashed away in the closet.

Sandy suggested a tie, but I was afraid you might use the stupid thing to hang yourself. In the end, knowing you’re an avid reader, we decided on a gift certificate to Steimatzky’s, good for up to one year. And don’t worry; Sandy and I will get a refund in case the certificate doesn’t get used for one reason or another.

Now, I was asked to share with you my insights on what being 50 is all about. It’s worth being reminded that it hasn’t been all that long since turning 50 was indeed cause to celebrate — still being alive.

Today, life expectancy has been somewhat extended, and that you arose from bed on that big day is no longer, thankfully, in and of itself reason to rejoice.

Nevertheless, more than a few changes will become apparent, and as in many other aspects of life, the smallest of them will most likely make the greatest impression.

Think back, for example, to when you were still 49 and found yourself on a crowded elevator. Getting off at the desired floor required, more likely than not, the use of elbows, shoulders and some good old-fashioned pushing.

Now, however, in that same elevator a path will mysteriously appear through which you can exit peacefully and unmolested. That you are no longer in your first youth and have entered this new phase of life is seemingly intuitively acknowledged, and your fellow passengers respectfully stand aside in recognition that you can no longer compete with those younger and brasher.

Or, there’ll be a time when you’ll be driving and a police officer will hail you to the side. Maybe you’ll fail to come to a complete halt at a stop sign, or maybe you’ll be going a little faster than the legal limit, or maybe it’ll be just a routine document check. At any rate, the cop will approach your car and as he stares at you his face perceptibly changes. You can hear thinking: Gee, this guy ain’t much younger than my old man; better take it easy on him.

So he tips his hat and bids you a nice day. Believe me, you’ll find it difficult to resist the impulse to jump out of the car, grab him by the neck and accuse him of age discrimination.

That which was once routinely shrugged off as inconsequential and irrelevant will no longer be.

And that which lies on the other side of the half-century border you’ve just crossed will become more prominent and focused. Like what happened to me some months ago while I was in the United States.

A commercial for funeral insurance came on while I was watching a little television. I scarcely paid any attention to it until the announcer invited viewers over 50 to call for additional information and a free quote.

The hotel manager was not very happy when he learned that I put my foot through the screen.

The fact is, at 50 we’re regarded as more interesting than when we were 20.

A scholar named Robert Raines has invested considerable effort into making the passage from middle age to senior citizenry understandable, and found out that, contrary to what many think, this period of life that you and I are now in is filled with exciting challenges. Or at least, can be. He identified a number of steps that guys like us should embrace, both to make these years more fruitful and to make our eventual and inevitable passage into the gold ones easier and less traumatic. It’s worth giving them a bit of thought.

On the one hand you must be realistic and face up to your mortality; sooner or later, you know, it’s going to get just a little more difficult to get up from that chair you’re now sitting in.

But, on the other hand, it’s not too late to define or even redefine the meaning and direction of your life. As your kids grow older, the burdens they place on you lessen, giving you additional time to pursue that which you’ve always longed to.

I’ve learned that it takes remarkably little effort to realize that every day is worthwhile. Remember the old chestnut about the guy who cried because he had no shoes until he met a man who had no feet? Just take a glance in any direction and you’ll find countless men, women and children without feet. You’ll see more than a few with incurable illnesses, mired in the quicksand of poverty, or constrained by severe disabilities and handicaps.

All too many are hanging onto nothing more than a thin, raggedy thread of hope. And others don’t even have that.

Think about them, Moish, next time you start kvetching about your car’s leaking radiator, and keep in mind that we thank God every day that, unlike many others, we at least have shoes.

Make an effort to get closer in touch with those around you. Family, friends, co-workers, neighbors; now’s the time to establish interconnections that never were in place and to strengthen those that are.

And, in parallel, get rid of festering grudges that place a burden on your heart and serve no practical purpose.

If nothing else, you won’t have to fret over who you’ll be sitting with at the next simcha you attend.

At any rate, Moish, there you have it. On the other side of the gate you just entered lies a road paved with challenge, hope and expectation.