And then you turn fifty


I’m ready to grow old.

I don’t know everything I want to know, and I don’t understand everything I want to understand.

I realise more than half of my life is probably behind me – and I have vivid memories of my childhood, so I know time doesn’t stand still.

I accept that I will never learn to speak Turkish, and even if I learn to speak Turkish, I probably won’t learn to speak Swedish as well. And even if I learn to speak both Turkish and Swedish, I will most likely not learn to speak Xhosa or Russian or Japanese in addition to the other languages.

I see people younger than me who speak and act like they have yet to learn or experience certain things. I see from this that I have indeed experienced a lot of life, or that there are many things I have not yet experienced – both good and bad.

I am ready to grow old, because I accept someone has to take the place of the generations that have come before me. That is me, and the millions of other people on the planet who were born in the late sixties and early seventies.

MONDAY, 17 MAY 2021

When you bleed, your body does something to stop the bleeding.

When you bleed, you also take steps to stop the bleeding.

Yet we fear it.


Other people may differ, but for me, fifty is the biggest birthday of my life – so far, at least.

Sixteen is probably big, but I was a high school student at fourteen, at fifteen, and at seventeen and eighteen. What is so special about sixteen?

Twenty-one was also supposed to be an important milestone, and it was indeed a good party in my case – a large group of friends, and pizza and a dozen or so bottles of red wine at Giovanni’s Pizzeria in Arcadia, Pretoria.

Twenty-five is the quarter century – which I celebrated on a plane on my way to Hong Kong, and from there to Seoul, and from there to another city in South Korea where I would spend the next two years of my life.

Thirty was celebrated in Kaohsiung, in southern Taiwan, and I must confess: I felt older.

Forty came and went. (The decade was exceptionally productive, though.)

But fifty? There’s the sentiment of fifty that is the youth of old age, but no one who turns fifty is unaware of the fact that they are … significantly older than with any other milestone.

The instinct is immediately to recite a list for which one is grateful – and Heaven knows I am grateful for every person who makes my life better, and for every event and turn of events that made things work out better than how they could have worked out. But you think back to the day when you turned sixteen, and just the other day when you turned thirty – we had brunch at a place not ten minutes’ walk from where I’m typing these words.

You want to explain to people that you still have one or two items of clothing in your wardrobe that you’ve been wearing since your early thirties. (What should I do? Throw it away if it’s still wearable?) You want to point out that most leaders of state are still older than you. But nothing takes the thought away. Nothing can take it away: You’re getting old.

FRIDAY, 25 JUNE 2021

I’m again listening to music from fifty and sixty years ago. I read about the Cold War. I watch videos of murder and slaughter and political struggle in Vietnam in the sixties and early seventies.

I’m trying to capture something of the world that was dying at the time a new generation was about to be born.

MONDAY, 28 JUNE 2021

Turning fifty. During a global pandemic. Your mother is still recovering from the virus; your father is in the hospital. Your older sister had it a few weeks ago, and your younger sister and her husband currently have it.

Still, you’re grateful for what you have, and for what you have had so far.

So, guess you aim for 51, then.


I realised last night as I was being carried away to oblivion: Fifty is an appropriate age for me.

Suppose a Cosmic Accountant asks me to make a list of things I have experienced in my life, lessons I’ve learned, things I’ve seen, places I’ve visited, people I’ve met and gotten to know, but above all, to indicate on a spectrum what I reckon my emotional and mental understanding is as a result of all the above-mentioned. If the Cosmic Accountant then assigned to my person an age of “32”, I’d be disappointed. If he said something like “65”, I would think I had overcooked things a bit. “50”, I reckon, is an appropriate number.


Fifty and the possibility that the best years of your life are still ahead of you is a good opportunity for the famous Henry Ford quote: “If you believe you can, you can. And if you believe you cannot, don’t even bother.”