Meditation Retreats

I’m 50 and I don’t want to be improved any more

My mother Ann, 82, was asked to write an article for VIP magazine. “Who do you think you are, Rosanna Davison?” I teased lovelessly. “You’re just jealous,” she noted precisely.

It turned out that the brightest minds at Celebrity Magazine wanted her to compose some “life lessons” for each decade. Not a better woman, I had to agree. She sent me the article for review, just as I sometimes send her my columns.

Her advice, soon to be on the shelves and waiting rooms of doctors and hairdressers across the country, was sound and reasonable. She advised young women in their twenties not to mess with their eyebrows, excellent advice that is likely to be ignored by most VIP readers in their twenties, but they can’t say they weren’t warned. For the 70s, she suggested, “Stop dyeing your hair.”

What really caught my eye was what she wrote for people in their fifties: At 50, you don’t have to pretend anymore.

I turned 50 last week and was partying. There’s no need to pretend anymore, so to be completely honest, I’ve had an extravagant birthday month since October 1st and I’m not apologizing for ripping his whole ass off. It was still October the last time I checked the calendar, and these Libra haven’t finished partying.

I got some nice presents. Golden hoop earrings that are so big it would take your eye out, candles that look like the Poolbeg Towers, a huge vase that looks like a boiled candy, the promise of a trip to Rome.

But I just want what I’ve always wanted. I thought I would get the present when I was 30. And again at 40. I want to feel good and not like someone who needs improvement.

This, I should make it clear, is an existential rather than a physical pursuit. For example, I have long since come to terms with the fact that my body shape does not correspond to the narrow ideas of popular culture about attractiveness. And I don’t mind the seedy knee, an appendage that sometimes objects to trying to “squat” – and who can really blame the knee for it? I mean, the hideous word “squat” would make anyone hesitate.

Creeping heat

I am more fascinated than horrified by the creeping, almost violent heat, which in this time of my life comes out of nowhere several times a day, attacks my face, immediately flows out, sweat flows on cheeks and neck and forehead, with which I wipe handkerchiefs at the dining table while my daughters look on pityingly. “It’s just menopause, exciting times,” I tell them so they know that in their 50s they can look forward to something really hot.

This minute right now is the time to properly appreciate yourself, not for who you are not, but for who you are

I look at all of these things objectively, as if from a distance, with the serenity I learned on these 10 day silent meditation retreats: Oh look, my body is aging and changing and deteriorating and sweating profusely, unexpectedly. How interesting. What I find less interesting and more worrying is the creeping suspicion that I should have done more. Cut to more. I should be more In the meantime.

There is no need to pretend. A friend who is a couple of years over 50 told me that this landmark birthday might put me in a weird position mentally and I didn’t believe her, but now I do.

I always think of my father Peter, who died at the age of 41, a decision he made for himself, a decision that meant he would never be 50 years old. “I can’t take it any longer,” he wrote in a note to my mother to explain, exhausted from years of living with an incurable mental illness.

Unforgettable scene

I think of my beautiful friend Aisling, who left when he was 46. I remember standing by her grave a few winters ago when the song she had chosen for that moment boomed over the tombstones and flower arrangements and lovingly placed robins. The song was Wild Is the Wind, sung by David Bowie in one of the best vocal performances of his life.

Aisling, a gifted storyteller, knew we would never forget the scene. Wild Is the Wind comes out of a loudspeaker sung by a recently deceased rock star as the wind lashes around us, forcing our hands deeper into our pockets. Aisling, who always kept a few bottles of champagne in the fridge so she was prepared for any moment that required extra bubbly. Who would have made such a fuss about me if she saw me turn 50.

She always knew how to party. More importantly, she always knew why and when to celebrate. She knew about life. She didn’t mean to pretend.

If the people at VIP wanted my Tuppence to be worth it, I would tell readers of all ages that now is the time to really appreciate yourself, not for what you are not, but for what you are are: a living, dying, glorious, messy, sweaty kind of wonder.

I’m 50. I don’t want to be improved. I just wanna be And I don’t want to pretend anymore

roisin@irishtimes.com

If you are affected by an issue in this article, please contact Pieta House at 1800-247247 or the Samaritans on 116 123 (toll free) or email at jo@samaritans.ie

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