April 2018

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Upside of Downhill

On my 50th birthday, my Aunt Cindy (who is seven years older than I am) sent me a birthday email: “It’s all downhill after fifty.”

I don’t know if that will be true for me. I’ve had some rough decades. In my thirties, I got divorced and came out to everyone I knew. In my forties, I had two brain tumors, neurosurgery, radiation, the swine flu, pneumonia, and food allergies that caused me to lose forty pounds. I’m hoping to be on a plateau, or at least on the plains, for my fifties.

In case I do head downhill, however, my friend Marcia (whose hair is beautifully white) and I started listing the advantages of going downhill: you don’t pant like you do going uphill; you can coast; you don’t sweat. My friend Rod titled the list: The Upside of Downhill. 

More friends arrived at my birthday party and kindly did not take off their shoes as the “Welcome to Geek Love, aka Mary’s 50th Birthday Party” directed. Our house filled and spilled into the backyard with people I love, each of them having brought me a poem or a quotation as a gift. My friend Karen had decorated my “Winged Words mailbox” with birds and butterflies (other winged beings), and friends stuffed their offerings into the mailbox, offering a second copy to me for a scrapbook (or two—my friends are overachievers, and many of them brought multiple gifts). My friend Ellen has chosen two scrapbooks and (bless her) will help me put it all together. (If you haven’t yet sent a poem or a quotation and you would like to, I’m willing and eager to accept your gift from now until forever.)

When Ann and I return from our trip to DC, we’ll post the mailbox at the bottom of the stairs, near the sidewalk, and I’ll keep it filled with poems and quotations, so that passersby can take one and leave one for others. I plan to start a new blog, too. I’ll continue this one, and on my new blog I’ll post a poem or a quotation each day, so it will be a virtual Winged Words Mailbox in case walking by our home isn’t handy for you. I’ll tell you when it’s ready. You’ll be able to access the blog at

Guests spanned the ages from young Pearl, who is seven months old, to Annabella who is almost 94. They also spanned my life in Seattle, from my long-time friend Rose whom I met soon after moving to Seattle 23 years ago to my student Sara, who was a student 21 years ago, to current classmates at the School of Social Work and church friends and neighbors and….

So far I’ve been fifty for eleven days, and so far downhill is great. On my birthday, Ann and I had a quiet day together. We went to the Olympus spa to sit in hot rooms of sand or charcoal, ate a tasty Korean meal in our shower caps and flimsy bathrobes (courtesy of the spa), soaked in hot tubs of various degrees of hotness, and got scrubbed and then washed in olive oil, warm milk, and honey until my skin was as smooth as it was fifty years ago.

On my first night at fifty, we went to a Pisces party where those of us who are watery and wise, born under the sign of the fish, danced and breathed as if we could do this under water. The dance is held at a senior center, and when we signed in we had to check a box to indicate whether or not we were over fifty, and so—for the first time—I signed in as a senior. (The event was free, so there wasn’t a discount.) My friend Donna and some friends of hers, all fish, have been celebrating our sign for 25 years. Ann danced a little, and I talked with Gude, a dear friend of our friend Chris’s who died in January, and then Donna, Chris’s partner, joined us and Ann returned.

Though I miss Chris, I felt her presence with us, and she bequeathed Donna, Gude, Ann and me one to another as friends. Another friend of Donna’s wore a Hawaiian shirt that had been Chris’s, so out of the corner of my eye I would glimpse her and forget for a moment that Chris is gone. At one point, we watched a couple dancing gracefully together, and I asked Ann who that was. “That’s Lipsky.” She reads my blog! Ann brought her to me so that we could meet. I felt shy.

We couldn’t stay at the party too late, because the next day we had an early morning flight to Minneapolis, where our previous student Chancey has started a charter school for kids living in poverty to go to kindergarten. Ann taught Chancey in Calculus, and I taught her in American Studies 17 years ago. Chancey has made the effort to keep up with us over the years, visiting when she comes to Seattle to see her parents, and I feel so grateful for this long-time connection. The visit was too amazing to condense into this blog entry, so I’ll post an entry about it another day.

Chancey took us to the airport at a ridiculously early hour the morning after our day at her school, and we flew on to Washington, DC, where we went to the National Museum of American History that day, the Holocaust Museum (another adventure too big for this one blog entry) the next day, and the National Museum of Art the following day. Our friend Genevieve’s mother Donita, who is a docent at the museum, took us on a tour, and it was amazing to witness the art from my Art History text book in college as well as to witness Genevieve’s mannerisms and walk in her mother.

Our last morning in DC, we circumnavigated the mall as we honored the presidents and soldiers who are memorialized there. The last memorial that we visited, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s memorial, was the only memorial to peace. The man, a martyr, was carved from a mountain of stone and the great orator’s words were inscribed on a wall around the monument. Ann took my picture by “I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits,” and then I took her picture by “True peace is not merely the absence of tensions, it is the presence of justice.” I was exhausted from all of the walking, but fate was kind and sent a cab to pick us up and take us to lunch. More evidence: this going downhill is working for me.

From there, it was on to the DC train station, where the system was disorganized and confusing but our fellow passengers were kind, so we made it onto the right train and off at the right stop in Maryland where my Auntie (pronounced “Ontee”) Myra awaited us.

That was Friday, and we had crab soup for dinner before going to bed early (bless Myra for both), and Saturday Ann and Myra raced around the nearby trails while I slept late and did yoga before my younger cousins Anna and Mark arrived. We caught up over crab cakes for lunch and some more chatting back at Myra’s. (I hope we didn’t bore my youngest cousin Mark too much with our talk of health issues. I remember well when my grandmothers talked on and on about the price of peas, and I could hardly sit still for their enthusiastic chatter about such a boring topic.)

Sunday morning, it was back to the train to DC where we were meeting my previous student Angela (25 years ago!) and her partner Maryann for brunch. I don’t think I’ve seen Angela in those 25 years, and on email she had told me she looks just the same (only older and maybe pudgier), but I would not have recognized her if she hadn’t waved her arm from across the train station. It was so amazing to see this young woman who had struggled as a teenager now confident, calm, centered, successful, and beautiful. She and Maryann, her partner of 12 years, seemed easy and kind to one another. This visit did my heart more good than I can express, and again I’ll have more to say about this visit another day.

We have had a fine vacation, celebrating my birthday by celebrating so many words and people and memories that I love. Today we are flying back to Seattle, and my heart is full.

Yes, I think my fifties are going to go downhill, and I think I’m going to love them.


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