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~~ Sharon Phennah is author of You Can’t Iron a Wrinkled Birthday Suit and today’s guest blogger~~

Invoked by all spiritual practices and most organized religion—my Presbyterian forebears in particular—introspection is becoming an uncommon virtue. It is difficult enough to get  folks to think before they speak or act—witness politicians and others in the media glare—never mind to engage in self-examination unless required to do so by one of the twelve-step programs.

Yet, as we continue living, the need for introspection descends upon us like a summer storm, initially in the distance. The sign at the grocery check-out says, “We card if you are under 40,” referring to wine and beer sales. Passing through un-carded isn’t too shocking. We’re frazzled and not looking our best. The boss is waiting, the kids need to get to practice, or you’ve got to drop Depends off to your parent in assisted living. Or all of the above.

The storm gets closer. One day you look in the mirror and there’s your mother. You pop back—surely it was a mistake, and then hasten away, chagrined and saddened. The seventeenth invitation to join AARP comes, and you grudgingly send in your check. The vacation to see the new grandbaby is coming up and the 10% discount will help.     

The storm is down the block. Senior discounts pop into your line of vision everywhere. Some better than others; some you qualify for, some not yet. You consider letting your hair go grey so you can automatically get the goodies.

Another birthday passes and you plan your shopping around, not only double coupons as usual, but senior discount day. Moving quickly, you prove you are NOT a member of the wheelchair-and-walker club, but when the cashier doesn’t give you the discount, you whip out your driver’s license and point at it with pride. What’s up with that? You leave the store shaking your head.

The storm is here, and it’s time to deal, time to find out, “What am I thinking?”

“The first half century is the hardest,” my mother used to say. I’m not sure. Despite strenuous effort at the gym, healthy eating, optimism, and for a while, plenty of sex, I didn’t stop getting older. Birthdays kept coming. My initial view of adult life, that you mature around 30 or 35 and stay the same as that—only with more wrinkles—until you die, preferably around 100, has proven faulty.

Unbidden and undesired, physical things happen. I still love garlic, but my body revolts. I could work 16 hours—physical work—sleep, rise, and do it again. Sometimes, when I was very young, I could skip the sleep. Slowly I have watched my working ability slip away. Today, four hours of hard work (toting boxes as in moving, hauling brush, digging holes) sets me into a whirlpool of exhaustion and arthritic pain lasting at least two days. My knees collapse if I dare squat, and they shriek at me over what used to be normal usage. In fact, the words “used to be” are now cliché.

My attitudes have also undergone a sea change. “Oh pooh, that’ll never happen to me,” has morphed into “What shall I do if THAT happens?”

I’ve had ground fall from under my feet, unwittingly driven within a foot of a cliff’s edge, been nicked by a chain saw in spite of great care, witnessed horrific auto accidents, seen young friends (I was young at the time too) die of drug overdose and other foolishness, experienced a house fire, betrayal, birth, death, and so on . . . all the business of living.

I know things CAN happen and WILL happen. In the end, the machinery of the universe will do whatever it does. I can no longer ignore or try to circumvent it (an impossible task); I must learn how to work with it, how to survive it, how to remain happy in all of it, and how to make the second half century the best it can be. I also know at some point, I will lose.

That very idea is at once comforting and frightful, an emotional paradox, but living with paradox seems to be a requirement of maturity. Stay tuned.

Find Sharon’s books and other insights at her website: http://wrinkledbirthdaysuit.com/