We all have icons in life. Icons work as a type of shorthand commemorating momentous events, deeply felt emotions, or a state of mind such as hope or gratitude. Some are handed down by tradition. Others evolve through transformational experiences. And some just happen. So when I am asked how Boston became the icon of my journey to middle age, I answer, “all of the above.”
My first trip to Boston was at the tail end of a West Coast-East Coast road trip at the ripe old age of nineteen. I left Seattle with a new boyfriend, and by the time we hit the redundancy of Iowa, he had confessed his unwavering love for another woman. Boston became the icon of escape. It represented a summer reunion with a familiar college roommate and a reprieve from endless hours of being stuck in a car smothered in silence and hurt. By the time we made our way to Boston, I found Harvard’s intimidating yet awe inspiring campus, Trinity Church reflected against the John Hancock Tower, beers at the Cheers bar, and home cooked lobster a great distraction to rejection and heartbreak. It was in Boston that I found my breath. It was the beginning of a slow emancipation that started with purchasing a return bus ticket for one, on my terms, with only my baggage.
I returned to Boston many years later as a non-profit executive. The tradition of Symphony Hall with the Boston Symphony Orchestra was the highlight of that trip along with a harbor tour that reminded me that amidst the high-rise buildings and culture there is no substitute for the serenity of a bay protecting against the ferocity of open water. I flew into Boston once more on a red-eye to chair a board meeting and only got out of a windowless hotel conference room to experience a lightning storm atop a penthouse restaurant and to purchase an extraordinary lamp as a wedding gift for my best friend and her husband. The lamp made such an impression at the beginning of their life together, that I considered Boston my good luck charm. But even with those experiences, they were not enough to elevate Beantown to iconic status.
So how did that happen? Roughly 24 months prior to my 50th birthday, I began to observe the various ways women embraced or reviled this particular milestone. Those that embraced it planned transformative trips or celebrations, while others would forbid you to speak their impending age or insist that you refer to it in code such as “five-zero” or “the birthday that shall not be named.” I decided to opt for the embracing strategy and perhaps take it a step further by challenging myself to explore my own assumptions of who I was and who I might become. Being a driven personality, I also knew it would help to have a goal, so I rallied my friends and family to help come up with fifty things to try, do, or experience as I counted down to my half-century of life. There’s nothing revolutionary about the suggestion that I should run a marathon, as it appears on many people’s “to do” lists. What is surprising is that I considered it, even though I didn’t own a pair of running shoes and eventually adopted it as a possible accomplishment. Under the tutelage of my older sister who co-trained with me and promised to run the marathon as well (I felt comforted that someone could pick up the emaciated body if I did not succeed), I ran the Seattle Rock and Roll Marathon in June 2009. I finished upright, body intact and even managed to crack a smile for the finish line cameras. Mission accomplished, or so I thought.
Hours later, my dear sister called me in what I at first took to be a prank as she informed me that my marathon time had qualified me for the Boston Marathon. First of all, I didn’t know what that meant, and second of all it didn’t seem possible or probable. In fact, it was true. My time, plus the serendipity that I would turn fifty a week before the Boston Marathon put me in qualification for this elite group. Not being a runner prior to this endeavor, I had no idea that people spend their entire life trying to qualify for this grand daddy of all marathons, and that it would be a great runner faux pas to decline the opportunity unless I was injured or incapacitated in some way. So, I signed up for and have been accepted to run the Boston Marathon on April 19, 2010.
So, Boston has become the icon of my middle age passage. I’ve discovered I can do things I never imagined possible. It has become my litmus test of who I want to spend the next fifty years with: those who cheer me on, or those that deride the accomplishment? Is it a middle age crisis? I don’t think so. I think Boston will be the reminder that I’m at the prime of my life and I’m not afraid to flaunt it. My advice: explore the “Boston” hidden within you. It's in there somewhere, formed from deep tradition, protected from the open water by a sheltered bay, reflecting the old off the new with glistening towers of possibility, and holding a heart of a champion as you run your race on Patriot’s Day.