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Fifty, 50



The week before I was born almost 50 years ago, an unknown American musician called Paul Simon performed on BBC Radio for the first time.

He played 13 songs, including "I Am a Rock" and "Kathy's Song" — and thanks to that broadcasting moment, a 23-year-old genius was on his way as a singer-songwriter. He was still unknown in America.

The BBC visit was on Jan. 27, 1965. I was born eight days later, also in England, on Feb. 4.

My mother, who is my musical mentor, was 20 and didn't hear Paul Simon that day. She was more attuned at that point to Herman's Hermits, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles — and waiting for me. But later, when I was growing my personal songbook as a five-year-old, I knew all the words to "I Am a Rock," and that was thanks to her. I was a pretty complicated, word-oriented kid.

We were in Canada by then and the world was changing. And it continued to change. And change.

When I think of the revolutionary shifts of my era, I think of the transformation from hot type to computers, from libraries to the Internet, from landlines to "smart" phones.

The social side of media now means that it is just as easy for my friend in London to read this as it is for me to hand a "hard copy" of this column across the table to someone I am having coffee with. Just 20 years ago, as a young journalist in Europe, I was grateful to be able to find a three-day-old copy of The Globe and Mail.

When I was born, there were 3.35 billion people on earth. Now there are 7.25 billion. Pollution was a hyperlocal issue. See some garbage? Horrible, pick it up and throw it out. Now... the latest is that people are talking about the seas facing mass extinction by 2050 (See The New York Times story and others, if you can bear it).

My mind gets blown more than a little by the speed at which the momentous changes of our age have played out, are playing out. Then I think of my grandmother, who turned 50 herself the year I was born. She arrived in 1915 in the middle of a world war, airplanes were magical flying machines, cars were almost non-existent toys of the rich, factories were the hubs of her community, and at the age of one she lost her father to something now easily curable. By 1965, these dynamics had changed permanently.

For good or bad, I often measure out life in terms of historical moments.

I'm fine with that; it's more a case of wonder and awe for me than anything else. Turning 50 and I try to be reflective about my era and my place in the world and how I want to live the rest of my life.

I know that I have passed through moments where I've definitely felt older than I do now; when it comes to the things that bring you a good life there is no age limit.

Experience teaches. I know, for example, that life goes on after setbacks and grief. I know that if I work hard and smartly I can achieve at least a few of my goals because I already have. I know I can still dream, change directions, or be ambitious — and I have the power of experience behind me.I care less about what people think, though being open to others and honest is more important to me than ever.

So I hit 50 feeling more-or-less assured about what I want. I couldn't even say that 10 years ago. I am grateful for my life. And if I want, I can even grow old disgracefully. I am currently reviewing the options.

Then there is the personal stuff that I laid the tracks down for over the years. Things like the joy I have at seeing my son through his last years at grade school and onward in his life, the relief of knowing and understanding who I am and shifting my preferred life into greater gear, the love I feel for dear friends and family near and far who throw relief and comfort into my life.

And another cool thing about turning 50 is that I apparently now come with my own weather centre. Aches are more interesting. I can tell when the rain is coming. My hair's holding its original colour, more or less.

When I was a teenager, I asked my mother — who was the ripe old age of 37 — what that felt like. She replied that she felt the same as she did when she was 17.

I get that now. In trying to figure out what my life is, has been, or can be, I accept the assignment for the next 50, 40, 30 or whatever years I have left. I plan to take myself forward and enjoy every minute.