top of page

At 50 | Jason James Barry

So goes time, and it’s gotten to be even odds that I’ll snap awake now for no reason. Sometimes so early that I have the time to settle back in. Otherwise, I’m left to stare out in the dark, or at my phone or to otherwise pretend to zonk out until my wife, the early bird, rousts up to attack the day.

Today, it was 3:33 a.m., which I want to say has some evil, bewitched significance. I cringed at the time, that horrible middle time between light rest and a head full of fog. I’ve tried to trace the last of my thoughts, perhaps to figure out what left me unsettled. What manifested today as some oddball dream to leave me unnerved? What brain worm invaded in the midst of my sleep? Well, nothing, except it’s my birthday today. Not just any. But 50.

Today isn’t different than yesterday, or the day before, but the idea of it grips me. My mind so often bounds between ages 12 and 17 and 22 and 30 — in moments of full-color-recall. And now I’m dumbfounded at now. Fifty. It’s here.

In one of those moments of full recall, back to high school, freshman year, I promised myself — overhearing flirty teacher lounge chatter — that I would never settle for being “fit for his age,” as a female Spanish teacher chirped, cooing to her faculty gossip group about a male history teacher not there.

But here I am, now fully their age, managing the sore elbows and ankles and knees from the Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu and weight workouts I’ve pledged to continue until I fully collapse. And yes, I puff my chest, modestly, but somewhat proudly, that I’m more fit than my age. And I’m fully aware of my own contradiction, what I chalk up to the changes in fortune — and perspective — that accompany the passage of time.

The other option, of course, is to surrender and give in and wither. So, I proceed and tend to the aches and push on, full well knowing that the punishments from the day set in quicker and take longer to heal. But I’m fit for my age, hopefully more so, and doing more that my dad did, and hopefully for a lot longer.

Those moments flashback to me, sometimes deceptively, that recall of me at 12 and 17 and 22 and 30 that doesn’t feel far off at all. Except that it is. Thirty happened 20 years ago. My teens and 20s, even longer since.

Even the Kardashians and Madonna can’t fight time gracefully, forever. So goes time for each of us. The alternative to all this is, you don’t reach 50 at all. So I don’t count myself lucky, so much as I appreciate the path that’s taken me here so far.

I look back to junior high and recall the kid everyone knew of, one grade up, who died of cancer, whose tribute in the yearbook promised everyone would always remember. He never saw past 13 or 14. And then there were four graduating seniors in high school — the popular immortals — who died in a car crash my freshman year. And on to my father who died when he was 53. And on now to classmates and contemporaries who died during COVID.

So I don’t count myself lucky, so much as I appreciate the path still that I’m on. So goes time, and mine now at 50. And in a brief breath, to view a life that I’ve crafted in career and friendships and marriage and family, I look back gauging that mountain I’ve made passage over and through. But the journey, I hope, is just so far, and far from being done. So while I look back, I look ahead, too, beyond the age that I am, forward.

- WJJ@50

Jason James is an award-winning essayist and journalist. Follow his work on and at


A Season Cover link.jpg

Check out more on GreatPacificReview

bottom of page