The Working Title Is…The Dirtiest of The Dirty Words

There are a number of words that, when uttered at a certain age, carried the punishment of a soapy mouth. Comedian George Carlin famously spoke of seven dirty words that were once verboten to say on television. As society evolved, or depending upon your perspective, deteriorated, the ban has since been lifted on some of the classics.

I will freely admit there are a few of those words that roll off my tongue like the saltiest of sailors. Certain situations demand a, “What the xxxx?”   Or a, “Are you xxxxxxx kidding me?”  And, of course the occasional, “xxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxx, what xxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxx with xxxx for brains came up with this xxxxxxx idea?” But that doozy was usually reserved for supervising craft related book reports or volunteering on fundraising committees.

There are a few words that are SO naughty that they render me speechless, leave me aghast and can even cause a tiny bit of throw up to unexpectedly appear in the back of my mouth.

In recent weeks, I have been hearing the dirtiest of dirty words repeatedly. People uttering it without shame, in full voice rather than hushed tones, and some have even had the audacity to say it directly to my face in what I can only interpret as a sure sign of Armageddon.

The dirtiest of the dirty words…..Fiftieth.


Sure, they try and mollify my horror by sandwiching such a cuss between the words “Happy” and “Birthday,” but the pain of such a slur stings like a xxxxxxxxxxxx.

I was out to dinner with my wonderful in-laws a few weeks ago and the subject arose of the impending milestone anniversary of my birth. It was in the middle of this lovely meal that I had a devastating memory break through from its comfortable resting place deep within the recesses of my brain.

I was a guest at my future father-in-law’s surprise 50th birthday party.

Now get this straight…I love this family. I love my father-in-law as much as I loved my own Dad, but this memory sent me into fits of sweat and labored breathing.

I remember that party vividly. I remember feeling so fancy schmancy at the country club that I didn’t feel right ordering a beer, so I tried a Cabernet. (Note to self for future autobiography: drop pin here for pivotal turning point in liver function.)

But what I remember most about this party celebrating a man I deeply admire was… everybody was really, really old.

So how the xxxx can I be that same age?

Please, don’t waste your breath with platitudes…

  • Age is just a number.
  • It’s how you feel that matters.
  • Fifty is the new Thirty.
  • It’s better than the alternative.

I know all that xxxxxxxx is true. Especially that last one.

In her book Option B, Sheryl Sandberg writes that she will never again complain about another birthday after the unexpected death of her husband at the age of 47.

I can empathize with that statement. There has not been one decade in my life where I haven’t buried someone I loved at far too early an age. And after posting my essay, I’m No Sheryl Sandberg, Sheryl was kind enough to reach out to me. We had a lovely exchange of emails that left me incredibly moved by the depth of kindness displayed by this world-renowned business luminary.

Which makes it all the more awkward when the voices in my head scream, “I don’t give a rat’s xxx if Sheryl Sandberg maturely responds to our mutual young xxxxxxx widowhood with such xxxxxxx grace and sophistication. I AM STILL GOING TO XXXXXXX COMPLAIN ABOUT TURNING XXXXXXX FIFTY.

It doesn’t take a psychologist to figure out why I’m struggling with this big xxx number. My life doesn’t look like I thought it would at Fifty. I sure as xxxx never thought I would mark this occasion without my husband or either parent beside me. But the pity party is short-lived because I am also reminded that I could never have predicted the multitude of blessings that would have been bestowed upon me in these Fifty years.

With a reversal of tone and content so severe from this foul-mouthed forty-nine year old that it would make even Kathy Griffin’s head spin, the reminder came to me while I sat in church on Sunday.

I share a birthday week with the Catholic Church who celebrated her’s on Pentecost. And she’s super old. I listened to how the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples and was reminded of the gifts the Holy Spirit brings us all…sometimes directly to us and sometimes through other people.

I was reminded about the f’in things that truly bring my life meaning…family, friends and faith. I see those gifts of the Holy Spirit at work—in and through the people I love—their counsel has brought me Wisdom, Knowledge, Understanding and Right Judgment. Their love has brought me Courage and opened my eyes to Wonder and Awe. And because of them all, I feel immense Reverence for God. Despite the fact every once in a while a xxx xxxxxx might slip out while driving behind some xxxxxxx.

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.

Now fueled by these gifts and all the blessings in my life, I will move forward into the wonderful unknown of what is yet to come. But I’m NOT doing it as a xxxxxxx Fifty year old.

I’ve decided to go way, way old school. I think the ancient Romans had it right. They knew how to make Fifty look lithe and likable, lustrous and full of love and laughter.

So, in a few weeks, when I fill out the paperwork for my colonoscopy, it will look like this…

Age: L

You can go xxxx yourself Fifty. I’m going to languor in the lusciousness of L.



The Working Title Is…There Ought to be a Word for That

I have long known that happiness and sadness are not mutually exclusive emotions. And it’s no mystery to anyone who knows me that I tend to experience emotion on a plane that is both guttural and transparent.

I remember, as a child, my Grandma Hogan comforted me by holding my pink, splotchy, tear-stained face in her hands saying, “The Irish feel things deeply…in a way others just can’t understand.”

I’m not sure how directly my emotions are tied to “the old sod,” but I do know that there is an undeniable depth to my feelings. I’ve experienced happiness and joy where my heart beats so loudly I can hear it in my head and feel as though it has expanded in my chest cavity to the point it will likely explode.

I have felt sadness so profoundly that my chest physically hurt. The weight of anguish made it difficult to even breathe, and when I finally surrendered enough to exhale, I was certain that I lost something of myself in that breath.

I have felt the anxiety only parents know when watching their child compete or perform. With bated breath, it seems as if your heart pauses mid-beat, only to resume once the child’s task is complete and pride replaces the post once held by anxiousness.

And then there are those occasions where I have felt completely happy and completely sad simultaneously; not half and half, but if there existed a gauge to measure emotion, it would read 100% happy and 100% sad.

I just don’t know how to describe that conflux of emotion in a single word.

I remember feeling it for the first time the day my Grandma Hogan’s cat died, the same day she held my face in her hands.

We didn’t have a pet of our own yet, and I wanted nothing more than an animal to love that would love me back. That’s why I hated that damn cat with every fiber of my being. I’d chase it around my grandma’s house yelling, “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty.” But it ran from me every time, and on the rare occasion I did catch her, she’d hiss and scratch at me until blood gushed from my single-digit aged skin.

Damn you, Beauty, for forcing me to pretend it didn’t hurt, and forever proving that emotional scars heal far slower than physical ones.

I’m not going to lie. I was thrilled that cat was dead, until, that is, we walked into Grandma’s kitchen and saw her crying. I never saw my grandma cry before. This tiny woman looked even tinier sobbing in her rocking chair. Without that damn cat to compete for rocker space, I crawled on to Grandma’s lap and cried and cried and cried. I was completely happy and completely sad.

That duality has returned many times over the years, most recently, last month with a Marquette University basketball game as the backdrop.  The happiness meter was off the charts. My daughters and their friends, our friends from college and beyond college and their children and their friends all surrounded me.

I was so happy, and yet, the notable absence of those loved ones who can only be present in spirit and in memory left me so, so very sad.

There ought to be a word for that blend of emotion, but I couldn’t come up with one.

And, then, perhaps not so ironically, Death entered my mind.

Death, the narrator of Markus Zusak’s remarkable novel The Book Thief, is a surprisingly likable and humorous character. He speaks of first seeing the colors associated with his difficult work, and then he sees the faces.

Perhaps my emotion could be articulated through color? For me, 100% happy is a spectacular fuchsia, and my 100% sad would be a gunmetal blue-grey.  So it would stand to reason that this dichotomous emotion I experience would be a welcoming, soothing, peaceful color in the deep purplish end of the color chart.

A feeling only attainable when the brilliance of blessings—cherished, now mourned, from the past, savored and protected in the present, and dreamt of and hoped for the future—blend into one.

Benjamin Moore Paint color 2116-30 is named Cabernet.  Sounds good to me.