Turning 50: A Black woman’s thoughts

In a culture that worships at the altar of youth, my enthusiasm about turning 50 (a mere 72 hours from when I’m writing this) may seem strange.

I mean, 50 is old, isn’t it? Or at least well along the way to “old.” And who the hell wants to be old?

Despite what society tells us, though, as a Black woman—well, one of the greatest gifts for me is the ability to grow old. The inequity that is woven into the fabric of our society and the cumulative stress of racism does everything it can to rob Black people of our lives and our vitality—the quality of our years and the number of them. From the moment we are born, especially in the United States, this world is designed to take our lives and take them early. 

I have watched this world take too many people, far too early, including both of my parents. Thus, turning 50 is not just reaching a milestone age. It feels like a victory, especially as a former teenage wife and mother. In choosing to get married at 18 and have a baby at 19—in a white supremacist society—I’m expected to not be here at all (or at least I’m not supposed to actually be enjoying my life or thriving if I do have the gall to live).

More than that, I should not be watching my children thrive. I should not have a famous musician for a son, beautiful grandchildren, and an amazingly talented daughter who marches to her own beat. Hell, I am probably not even supposed to have most of my own teeth in my mouth at this stage of my life. Given that there was never enough money in my childhood for seeing the dentist, just the fact that I am still working with most of my own teeth feels like a gift. 

As a Black woman, I am reaching this milestone age free of diabetes and hypertension—another miracle given that the stress I face regularly is just the cherry on this sundae called life. I don’t take any of it for granted, because I know too many who didn’t make it—people I knew in high school and my early adult years. Lately, it seems like my brother—who is eight years younger than me—is always telling me about another friend of his who has passed away. These are people in their late 30s and early 40s, almost always Black or Latino. 

To be Black, and to be able to grow to middle age and beyond, is a gift that few white people will ever understand. Because for most white people, early death is a fluke rather than a staple of your existence. It’s easy to be cavalier about aging in a world designed for you. A world where health concerns are heard and addressed instead of brushed off until you have a massive stroke that prematurely ends your life. Or getting diagnosed with stage 4 cancer when months passed by with you being told the problems were in your head. 

Those aren’t hypotheticals, by the way. Those were my parents.

Even beyond being Black and just seeing 50, with the hope of seeing even more years, I see this moment as the closing of the first act of my life and the beginning of the second act of life. I have spent the entirety of my adult years since 18 taking care of others. Whether it was my children, partners, or parents—or choosing to do work where I have been in service to others. 

Yet as this act closes, I feel a level of spaciousness to show up for myself, in ways that my younger self could not grasp. I understand that reciprocity for this Black body is rarely a given, and that it is incumbent upon me to look out for me. To know and honor my limits, so that maybe—just maybe—I can live long enough to ensure that my grandbabies are not robbed of knowing their paternal grandmother. Unlike the ways my children were robbed of their maternal grandparents and extended family.

I know now that my continued survival in this world requires what some would call selfishness. No, it’s not selfishness just because I won’t constantly center others at my own expense. It’s just an intentional focusing on myself and supporting all Black folks so we can survive and thrive in a world not designed for us. 

Beyond just wanting to see my grandbabies grow up, I want to grow old and lean into a life where pleasure and enjoyment are not occasional occurrences but a daily reality, regardless of the external world happenings. I want to take the lessons from the first act of my life and use them in ways that bring something to the larger world.

While my body is still relatively nimble, I want to feel and move and enjoy within this body but also in the mental realm and still be open to growing. Because there is nothing worse than the older person who is unable or unwilling to still learn and grow. Stagnation is not a becoming look. 

While I have long feared turning 50 due to my mother’s early death and dreading I might face the same timer, I am finally realizing that while I share her genetic makeup, her fate of an early death is not necessarily mine. Losing her, just weeks after turning 31, was one of the hardest things I ever faced, only second to losing my father in 2020. However, I have reached the place in my own maturation where I know their legacies live on in me and my children. I built on the foundation they, along with the master architect laid—and I know that neither of my parents would want sadness for me.

I am embracing all of that as I cross into my fifth decade of life. True to form, life recently threw me a few curveballs and my plans for my 50th birthday celebration have had to be postponed, but that’s okay. Back-up plans have been made and in the end, knowing that I will be spending the day with my favorite human that I am not related to is a good enough gift for me. Another lesson as I age: Shit happens, shit is going to happen and, in the end, it’s how we choose to react when shit happens that matters. That is where we lean into our own humanity and meet ourselves. That space is where life is truly lived because rarely do things go according to our plans. Disappointment, adjustment, and even heartbreak are part of the life experience. 

A special note: A few weeks ago, this blog turned 15. Which in blog and social media land is a lifetime. I started this space in January 2008, when my daughter was three and when the idea that we would have a Black president seemed far-fetched. Of course, Obama would become president and this scrappy little space of a blog would end up having far greater staying power than even I could imagine. Given that it is a celebration year, both for this blog and for me—the person—I am asking that if this space has touched you over the years, consider making a one-time gift of either $15 to celebrate the blog…or, if you have the means and are feeling particularly generous, a one-time gift of $50 in honor of my 50th birthday.Thank you as always for your support. 

Image by Nikhita Singhal vis Unsplash

1 thought on “Turning 50: A Black woman’s thoughts”

  1. Shay, happy birthday!!! Fifty is a wonderful achievement and a beautiful gift – but also (as you say, in the face of an often uncaring and unhearing health system, and the stresses of racism) a swimming-against-the-tide achievement. I hope you have a wonderful day and year. xx from Scotland.

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