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When I'm 64

Comfortable in my own skin

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Stan Ehrenkranz, Cindy Gabriel

LIVING LARGE Cindy Gabriel shares a sunny day in Laguna Beach, Calif., with Stan “the Man” Ehrenkranz.

Fourteen years ago, I wrote a Buzz column on turning 50. It was an age-defiant piece typical of its time, which was the same year Oprah turned 50. We weren’t those ladies in hose and girdles with matching earrings and necklaces. Heck, we are the generation that invented hip-huggers and bell-bottoms.

I wanted to call this new piece, “Now that I’m Finally Comfortable in My Own Skin, It’s Wrinkled.” But it’s too long. 

This month I’m turning 64. I never thought much about that age, except for The Beatles’ song When I’m Sixty-Four, which implied a time when things were winding down. 

But 64 for me is more of a wake-up call. All the things I’ve been waiting to get to my whole life are standing just across a line of things I will do once the chaos and the busy-ness of life lets up. 

In the game of life, you might say I’m “rounding third” and heading home. In a metaphorical sense, home doesn’t have to be the end. Home, at least in baseball, is a good place that, at a minimum, rates a high five. In baseball, it is often the fastest, most focused run you make because it’s the point of the whole game.

From 50 to 64, I would take more risks than I ever had. Sometimes I would hit the goal; sometimes I would miss. I would be divorced, married and widowed.

I would lose my parents, my husband’s parents and, finally, my husband, all in five years. Three of those parents would be gone within 72 days.

I would be diagnosed with a brain tumor the size of my fist. It was a benign meningioma. I would have brain surgery. I would live. I would accept a full-time job, which I still have.

Here’s another way to look at it. I would fall in love after 50, twice, resume a career as if I’d never left, live in the shadow of downtown and walk along Buffalo Bayou to work; buy a house at a good price when the economy was down, retreat to Hunt, Texas, to a house my father left, and never miss a meal.

Everyone younger than I, siblings, children, nieces and nephews, is alive and well. My two daughters would fall in love and get married within six weeks of each other. I’m about to be a first-time grandmother. I’m becoming a gym rat, after self-identifying my whole life as a non-athlete. And now, along comes Stan-the-Man. He can’t fix a darn thing, but he loves to cook.

I wake up happy a lot more days than I did when I was younger, where you are up when you win and down when you lose. That perspective I’ll leave for baseball. When I notice myself feeling anxious, judgmental or worried, I call myself out and sit on the bench until it goes away. 

I try to spend less time separating people in my mind by their political or religious views. You may disagree with someone’s view, but you can’t disagree with their experience.

So, what have I learned? For one, that I will never stop learning. Life is far too mysterious to ever get enough. That winning and losing blur together the further they get in the rear-view mirror.

That pain has a precious side to it. That every one of the 5,110 days of these last 14 years I have slept in a climate-controlled environment, awakened with a fresh cup of coffee, never felt hunger and always knew I was loved by someone, some place.  

At one point, I thought, “I’m a widow and an orphan.” 

That meant I was free to be absolutely nothing but myself, whoever that is. The less I try to define myself, the more myself I am. The more myself I am, the more I am exactly what the world needs me to be. 

One of my jobs is to be happy. It is not to get more things or rearrange people or circumstances to make me happy. It’s not about being who someone else wants me to be. It’s just to be present.

To give space and room to each moment because now is really all I have. To breathe and to realize that the only essential thing in the room with me is oxygen, the one thing I cannot see, touch or hear. To realize that whatever I want changed about the world begins with me.

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