The morning I turned 50 (50?!), I woke up feeling like I'd crossed a line. I was at the top of a lifelong hill and my next steps could only take me down. Over the next few weeks, I noticed my mind, which always did have a mind of its own, growing fatalistic. If my knee hurt a little going down the stairs, that was it. It would only get worse until one day, I wouldn't be able to descend the stairs at all (God forbid!). If my hip hurt in the morning, then it would surely hurt - only more so - forevermore. It didn't take me long to realize that I was, thankfully, wrong. It was just a panic reaction - the shock of turning an age I couldn't imagine being. Those of us in our 50s are baby boomers - that peak in the population charts that meant we were born soon after World War II. We may not have made the revolution, but things haven't been the same since we hit the scene. We were the first women to benefit from the widespread use of birth control, a development that had an unprecedented impact on how women lived their lives. We went to college, got good jobs, had fewer kids. We were more comfortable in our skins than our mothers were: Our college uniform of jeans and T-shirts has become the lasting dress of choice for a vast majority. We stopped sleeping in rollers (do younger readers even know what rollers are?), teasing and spraying our hair till it was stiff as wood. We slept with our boyfriends. (Not to mention non-boyfriends. Or girlfriends.) We crossed barriers of race, gender and conformity. Even if our experiments with freedom didn't change the world, they changed the way many in the West live their lives today. How could we possibly be turning 50? Bob Dylan had promised us we would be forever young. Our master teacher, our guru even when we foreswore gurus, our gadol hador, he, like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Phil Ochs before him, both reflected us and taught us many things: to look hard at poverty, racism, pollution and war, and to try to do something about them. He urged us to question progress, to think twice before we pave paradise with a parking lot - or all our trees might end up in a tree museum. (You're right, Joni Mitchell wrote that one, but Dylan was the first to cover it.) In addition to asking us to tend more than our own garden and to realize the spat upon are blessed, Paul Simon - another icon - helped us keep our fingers on the pulse of our generation, and to look inside as well as out. He empathized with us and therefore helped us accept ourselves when we felt weary and small and had tears in our eyes. We benefited from that relatively new combination of media and music. Poetry became a way of life, with our poets on the airwaves and on vinyl we could take home and play over and over until we'd learned their poems by heart and they had become part of who we were. We've been so young for so long. Fifty hits us full force. We can't accept it. Who me, 50? Fifty is our parents' age - and surely we are nothing like them. But comfort began to arrive. My friend, Shifra, pointed out that 50 is what 40 used to be. Whew. What a relief. And I noticed that from the top of that hill, I had a better view: new vistas opened before me. And right over there, was another, higher hill and I could still climb it because miracle of miracles, my knee had stopped hurting (the hip, too, tfu tfu tfu). Hope came, too, in the cropping up of new loves: mindfulness, gardening, the amazing tribe that has joined us from Ethiopia. I learn from them all. My mother, of blessed memory, used to quote her mother, Chinee Babayoff: "Your ears never get old." We can learn all our lives. And the 50s are a bit like college: We learn at an accelerated pace. Insights come more frequently. The leaves that are green may turn to brown, our facial muscles aren't what they used to be and our white hairs (my daughter, Ilana, calls them wisdom hairs) seem to multiply daily. We are discovering, and slowly accepting, that we are not, after all, immune to aging. It will be interesting to see how we, who originated so much, will re-invent this next phase of life. Stay tuned for more on Life in the 50s next month.

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