41 comments on 51
3 minutes

I turned 51 yesterday.


I liked being 50. I liked saying that I was 50. I told everybody who’d listen, as a Kindergartner happily tells everyone he’s 5.

I’ve always enjoyed the ages that end in zero. I feel like I’ve crossed some threshold, and I dream about the next phase of my life. What new adventures will come?

My 50s truly are turning out to be a new phase, with adventures unlike anything that came before. I never dreamed of some of the adventures we’re on, most of which I never would have chosen. Frankly, some intensely hard stuff has come my family’s way. We’re pushing through it okay.

But that’s what I wrote about last year when I turned 50. This year I want to write about vanity, specifically mine, and how looking in the mirror bruises it. I’m looking noticeably older.

I remember in my 20s noticing middle-aged men who tried in humorously ineffective ways to look younger and hide what time had stolen from them.

I swore then I’d let aging just happen to me. If my hair were to fall out, there would be no Propecia or Rogaine or Hair Club for Men for me — if the hair loss became serious enough I’d just shave my head. When I went gray, I vowed not to reach for hair dye or even Grecian Formula. If my face turned into used-up shoe leather, fine. Well, not fine, but I was going to just let it be. Aging, do your worst — I would not let your signs rule me. I would find peace and happiness regardless of how I looked.

And then I was blessed not only to keep all of my hair, but also to never have more than a few random wisps of gray. And I just kept looking young, even through my late 40s. When I’d get carded buying beer cashiers would do a double take. Some of them even said, “You can’t possibly be this old.” Man, that felt good.

Those days are over. Cashiers never say anything when they hand me my driver’s license anymore — if they bother to ask for it at all. The lines on my face tell no lies. And after a haircut now I can see right through to my scalp on top. It was a genuine shock the first time I saw that. At the rate I’m going I’ll have a pretty healthy bald spot up there by the time I’m 53.

I expect no pity parties. I’ve had a great run and I know it. It just hurts to see my youthful looks go. It is a daily surprise to see my morning face in the mirror.

But I’m determined to stay true to my youthful vows: I will age boldly and proudly. It looks like my 50s is where physical aging will accelerate, so I’ll have plenty of practice.

I’m going to miss saying “I’m 50!” though. 51 just isn’t as exciting of a number to say.


41 responses to “51”

  1. J P Avatar

    It is funny how certain ages can imprint on us. There was a teacher in my Jr high school who seemed pretty old. One day he got into a fender bender while on a school outing with some students. The next day the newspaper article about it opened with”Reese Clark, 51, was involved in . . . .” Which confirmed to me that he was indeed really old. It also set a lifelong standard for what someone looks like at 51.

    Ever since, whenever I hear of someone turning 51 I remember Mr. Clark. You look a lot better at 51 than he did.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s comforting to know that I clear that bar at least!

  2. Reinhold Graf Avatar

    Happy Birthday Jim … and no worry … the best is still to come :)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Here’s hoping!

  3. Stephan Pot Avatar

    Happy birthday Jim. Somebody else already said the best is yet to come. Believe it, It is true :-)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ll hold you to it!

  4. aloramills Avatar

    Happy Birthday!

    Like you loving certain ages, my mind is always happy with those ending in 9. It has something to do with a time, waaay back in the 3rd grade, when I was put on the spot to choose a favorite number.

    The truth is, I was surprised to turn 54 this year. I don’t feel it at all. I’m healthy, happy, and no one believes me when I tell them how old I am.

    I like the way you have approached aging. Where our mind goes, our body often follows. So, keep your dancing shoes polished. In 45 years I’ll be having one helluva 99th birthday bash!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Well, here’s hoping I can keep my mind strong and stave off more bodily aging then! I’m less healthy now than I was two years ago, but that’s largely through stress and pace of some challenges happening. But as I push through them I look forward to feeling great again.

      1. aloramills Avatar

        Stress definitely plays a part in aging. But, with time and self-care, we can also do a lot of healing. Wishing you well.

  5. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    Other than my hair, which began turning white in my mid thirties, I always looked way younger than my age. As I was heading out of 55 towards 56, that’s when I started really noticing the years. It was a good run ’til then though :-)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Isn’t it a blessing to look youthful for so long? I really loved it when people were shocked to learn my age. I used to think that it was my hair staying black for so long that had a lot to do with it, but then I married someone who is full gray at about my age and it’s hard to guess how old she is.

  6. JoHawkTheWriter Avatar

    Happy birthday Jim 🎂

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thank you!

  7. DougD Avatar

    Ha, I’ve been 51 for a few months. We’re all in this together Jim.

    I don’t mind the changing visuals so much as I mind the health & healing process. My dodgy knee will never be right, my wife & some friends played beach volleyball last week but they’re all in their mid 40s and I knew better than to try. Those darn young people and their beach volleyball!

    It was a shock to notice the thinning hair on the back of my head. When we got our Wii U game console I was impressed that the camera showed on the TV so I was swinging it around and got an unintentional look at the top of my head: “Holy Cow, how long has that been like that??” But I don’t feel bad, my younger brother is almost completely bald :)

    Anyway it could always be much worse. Enjoy your family and friends, good food and a little belt of good whiskey. Serve God & others.

    Happy Birthday Jim

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I do have a minor pectoral tear that is taking forever to heal. I should probably see a doctor.

      As a guy who always had very thick hair is is totally a shock to see my scalp. I knew I had to have one but I never knew what it looked like!

  8. Michael McNeill Avatar

    Happy birthday old man! (From an even older man) :)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Many thanks Michael!

  9. Olli Thomson Avatar

    Happy Birthday Jim. I’m a few years ahead of you hitting 56 later this year. I know how you’re feeling. Fortunately I’m blessed with thick hair that shows no sign of thinning but it is only in the last couple of years that I began to notice a lot more grey on the floor when I was at the barber shop, and if I leave off shaving for a few days my beard is white.

    What really brought it home to me was realising this year that I;m now older than both of my parents were when they died. My parents were kids during the war and young adults in the harsh post war years in the UK. By the time that generation got to their fifties they looked old, and – no doubt – felt old.

    Despite the slowing down, the longer healing, the aches and pains, the wrinkles and grey hairs I think our generation is so privileged compared to that of our parents. I try to remind myself of that when I look in the mirror.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I can only imagine what it must have been like to have lived through the war and the postwar years in the UK. Those years in the US had their own limitations and stresses, but with the exception of Pearl Harbor there were no attacks on US cities.

      My parents were of a younger generation than yours it sounds like. Dad was a very small boy during the war and Mom was born after.

      We all go gray when we go gray, I suppose. It happened to my wife in her 20s, and it is only now starting to show signs of happening to me.

  10. Tom in Phoenix Avatar
    Tom in Phoenix

    Happy Birthday Jim!
    I am 67, and never thought I would live this long. Enjoy the time before clerks start giving you the senior discount without asking.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Lol, I suppose that’s the next sign of aging I have to look forward to!

  11. Christopher Smith Avatar
    Christopher Smith

    Happy Birthday Jim and may you and your family be blessed with a long life.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thank you Christopher!

  12. bettyinparis Avatar

    Happy Birthday Jim! My hub just got his Golden Buckeye card in the mail today, he’ll be 60 in a few weeks and I think that hit him a little harder than he thought it would. We get the card at 60 here in Ohio…but it does mean discounts, haha. It’s odd getting old. My Mom used to stand in front of the mirror and say “I don’t even recognize this person”. I used to make fun of her. I wish she was here so I could tell her that NOW I get it. I’ll be 57 soon which seems surreal. Like you I used to ALWAYS get the “oh you can’t be that old”. But not anymore. I can really see changes now and while it makes me sigh, it beats the other option. Wishing you a very happy 51!!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Well ain’t that the truth – better to be a little less attractive but still upright than, well, not upright. Fortunately, I still recognize myself!

  13. Davidvanilla Avatar

    Happy birthday keep the upbeat
    The body gets older but the out look gets brighter.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I look forward to that brighter outlook!

  14. Dan Cluley Avatar
    Dan Cluley

    Hope your birthday was good.

    I’ll turn 50 the beginning of next year. I don’t really feel like I’m that old, but I’m not sure what 50 is supposed to feel like.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Just like that: “I don’t feel that old; how can I be 50?”

  15. Dan James Avatar

    Jim, a belated happy birthday. I’m eight years behind you, but like you people have always been surprised at my age. I joke now that I’m still in my early thirties. Probably the biggest physical sign now is the thinning hair. I’ve also been surprised when there’s been a photo showing the back of my head and how thin it is. I’ve gradually cut my hair shorter in the last few years and there’ll come a point where I just go super short or shave it all off. I just got a new bike (bicycle) actually and the helmet messes up what’s left of my hair, so going super short may come even sooner! I like to think I’m generally quite fit and walk and practice yoga daily, and now I’m trying to cycle most days too. But there are definitely aches that appear that I don’t remember having ten years ago. And on the camera front I don’t much use DLSRs anymore as the focusing strains my eyes after a while. We can’t stop ageing, just try to embrace it gracefully and enjoy what we can!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I felt like I was 25 until I was 40, but I’ve felt my age ever since. I’ve never been athletic, so I haven’t experienced much in the way of loss of things I once could do, or an increase in aches and pains. I’m sure especially the latter is coming, and soon. And so far my vision is holding out, thank goodness. I have only one autofocus SLR left, my delightful Nikon N90s; I’d better hang onto it.

      1. Dan James Avatar

        Strangely enough, I’ve found AF lenses worse for my eyes. I don’t know if it’s because the lenses focus faster and can twitch in and out a bit so it’s harder or on the eyes, but manual focusing is definitely less tiring on my eyes.

  16. eppaar Avatar

    Happy Birthday. As one who is about to turn 80 I cannot sympathize with a mere child of 51. However, about the thinning hair, try to remember that clearings are a sign of civilization!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The great thing about the Internet is that we all talk to each other regardless of the things that usually divide us, like age or race or class. And if clearings are a sign of civilization than may I be savage for many years to come!

  17. Flower girl Avatar

    Hi, it was insightful for me in my late thirties. I will sure remember this post. I guess ageing is a tricky process but if handled well can be well cherished.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Mostly I’m just trying to avoid feeling bad somehow about getting and looking older, a thing we all must face! I know so many people who have some level of resentment over losing their youth and I just want not to go there!

  18. Photography Journal Blog Avatar

    I remember turning 10 and thinking, “wow, I’ve lived a whole decade!” :) Good times. Happy Birthday!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah, 10 is heady stuff to be sure!

      1. Photography Journal Blog Avatar

        I totally thought so :)

  19. lastirishmaninyorkshire Avatar

    Happy Birthday Jim, I thought I was doing ok until the barber started saying (as he took my money), ‘your not retired yet are you?’ Not just the one time but every time after that. Maybe I will just change Barber’s. Stay young at heart Jim.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Definitely change barbers! Rude to even bring up your retirement!

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