I can’t believe I am turning 50! Except for my creaky knees, my tennis elbow, my short term memory loss and my fading eye sight, I don’t really feel a day older than I did at 30! I am surrounded by cards that herald the big Five-O and they seem foreign…weird…surreal…as if they were meant for someone else. I could handle turning 40. Most of my friends eventually did and we all seemed to be ‘forty-something’ for a very long time. I still remember my mid-life celebration then – quitting my job and 4 wheel driving around Australia for 3 months but that seems like another lifetime ago now...!
As a kid, having a birthday in February meant that I reached each milestone before many of my mates did. This was great when you were sweet sixteen or that grown up age of 21. I still remember the cake my mom made - a key - symbolizing my new found independence although that didn’t really eventuate till a few years later when I packed my bags and left home to study for my Masters Degree in California.
At fifty, I have now spent half my life overseas away from my birthplace Colombo and consider myself a global citizen who lives in Sydney. Unlike those early childhood years my new friends are mostly younger than me. This means I am one of the first among us to turn 50. Yikes….it feels weird. My friend Emma who just turned 40 cheers me up and reminds me that her son Rosco hazarded a guess of 30 when asked how old he thought I was. When he turned up at my party this had somehow blown out of all proportion into – “we are off to Nil’s 41st birthday”!
This makes me reflect on the words my boss has written on my birthday card. “If you didn’t know how old you were….how old would you be?” Fifty sounds old but I certainly don’t feel old. It was only a year ago that I returned to Sydney after traipsing around the world solo. It had been my big sabbatical…a year spent living outside my comfort zone with just a backpack and a smile on my face. I had hot air ballooned over the wildebeest migration, ice climbed glaciers in Patagonia, walked with lions in Zambia and tracked cheetahs in Namibia. I had achieved my long-term goal of spending time on every continent with the trip culminating in a voyage to Antarctica! How could this adventurous girl with a zest for life be turning 50?
Since coming back from my travels I have embarked on a new Creative Journey, indulging myself in my hobbies of writing and photography. They have sparked a new fire within me which has given birth to a new dream - that of combining my love for the environment with my passion for writing and photography. I dream of writing a novel one day and perhaps working for Australian Geographic in a new career as a photo journalist!
But one does not get to fifty without hitting a few pot holes along the way. As a child you believe that everyone’s life follows the well trodden mantra – you know the drill – college, marriage, kids and a house in the suburbs. As you grow up you realize that not everyone achieves or even wants this “dream” and that life in fact is a bit of the good, the bad and the ugly! Life as it turned out was a bit of a fruit salad for me…..full of the bits I savoured mixed in with the bits I wish had been left out altogether. Yet this is what it means to turn 50. By the time you get here you have inevitably experienced some heartache and separation or even the passing away of friends and family you thought as a child would always surround you. The pain is what helps you grow and become a person with empathy, love and caring for those around you.
As the day of my fiftieth draws closer, I begin to fret. My friends remind me it is a milestone I must celebrate but I don’t cope well with big events, especially those I have to organize myself. We decide on a “big fat Greek BBQ - a tradition my partner who is of Greek heritage has often been a part of but never initiated himself. I gently persuade him we can pull it off. Over his parents dining table his mum helps us plan the menu. We borrow their spit and she reassures us, volunteering to help out with the preparations. Other friends and family volunteer their help with food and setting up and it begins to feel less daunting…..except for the one task I can’t colour code in my spreadsheet…sunny weather!
2012 has been the wettest summer since I migrated to Australia. On the eve of our party, it is still raining buckets as our neighbour James comes over and we struggle to put up a tarp in the dark and the wet. We give up eventually and agree to re-start the process in the morning. I have always been a happy, optimistic person. Even as a little girl I have always seen the glass as half full. So far, it has never rained on one of my big parades…..so I’m hoping for a miracle!
I wake up to a bit of mist and a light sprinkle but there is no time to waste. We begin the process of marinating, stuffing and stitching the lamb. I give Steve lessons in cross-stitch and help as much as I can and we both let out a big sigh of relief when we knot the last bit of string and look on with pride at a lamb ready for a feast. By the time our first guests arrive the lamb is browning nicely on the spit and the sun is shining down on us.
The day is hectic but the air is full of the sound of laughter and happy people who have been well fed. We are surrounded by people who love us both and have been there to share the good and the bad. My mum has flown in from Colombo to join us - the icing on my “death by chocolate” birthday cake, lovingly prepared by Chrissa.
As my day draws to an end I open my presents, read my cards and I reflect on the words of a close friend who reminds me I am on the path to achieving my lifelong goal of inspiring others with the way I have chosen to live my own life.
She wrote, ”how much you have packed into the first 50 years of your life Nil – the experiences, challenges, laughs, thoughts and loves. Congratulations on showing us all how to get to 50 in style and how to make the most of life!”