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Best Before

August 29, 2010

Almost all consumable products now come with a ‘best before’ date. For edible items – like the two pound package of sliced turkey from Costco that cannot possibly be eaten by one person before it ‘expires’ – this is a very good thing.  It no doubt prevents any number of cases of inadvertent food poisoning.

Date stamps on non-edible goods are also beneficial. They alert you to the fact that you have spent good money on something that may not, in fact, be usable by the time you get around to opening the package.  Again, this can be advantageous in circumstances where, say, you are on safari in Africa – miles from any store – and you need to ensure that both the batteries and film (or memory stick) in your camera are fresh enough to snap the eight thousand and forty two pictures you hope to entertain your friends and relatives with upon your return to civilization.

Some items have perceived – although not always obvious to the owner – ‘best before’ dates.  For example, the pink leather mini skirt you wore in high school should definitely have been relegated to the back of your closet by the time your first child was born.  The same goes for all hip-hugging or bellbottom blue jeans, halter tops, pastel leisure suits, and the six Hawaiian shirts you purchased on your honeymoon (pretty much any piece of clothing bought between the late sixties and mid-eighties is way past being fashionable – please, let them go!)

Unfortunately, there are also items all around us that don’t make their ‘best before’ dates known until they have already passed.  When the bottom falls out of the garbage can as you drag it to the end of the driveway at dawn on a bitterly cold winter morning, the coffeemaker refuses to make coffee (hopefully on a different day), and the cylinder head in your always-reliable car cracks and is deemed too expensive to repair … they’ve clearly reached the end of their lives – and without you having the faintest clue as to when it would happen (unless, of course, the item came with a ‘warranty’ – a kind of ‘best before’ alert that can generally be taken to mean that the item will stop functioning approximately three days after it expires).

Living things also have date ranges to which life holds them. We’ve all experienced the trauma of a family member, friend, or beloved pet dying unexpectedly.  We say things like ‘gone before their time’ and ‘if only we’d had more time …’ because we simply didn’t know their days with us were about to come to an end.

Old Tree

Everything has a ‘best before’ date

Not long ago, I noticed that one of the many large, mature trees on my property appeared to be deteriorating.  Over the years, fewer and fewer leaves had emerged on the branches of one side, several dead limbs had crashed spectacularly to the ground during a winter storm, and now a huge bough about fifty or sixty feet up was sagging dramatically.  A visit from the arbourist confirmed my suspicions – the tree’s lifeforce was slowly but inexorably being exhausted.  It was clearly past its ‘best before’ date.  (And while it broke my heart to have such a majestic example of nature removed, I couldn’t afford the risk of it collapsing and damaging the house, the cars, or perhaps even killing someone.  Over a hundred years of existence was wiped out in a single afternoon by a chainsaw and a wood chipper.)

But that tree became something of a symbol to me. You see, its demise occurred shortly before my 55th birthday.  Now, I had never had ‘issues’ with any of the other ‘big birthdays’ (30, 40, 50), and my age had never been something I gave too much thought to.  But the number 55 nagged at me.  I was starting to feel like that tree – there was a distinct lack of rejuvenation each spring, various parts weren’t working as well as they used to (fortunately nothing has actually fallen off yet), and there was a definite sagging feeling (mentally more than physically) from the sheer burden of having lived for so many years in the service of others. Then, on the day after my birthday, I realized – and none too joyfully – that my own ‘best before’ date had passed!!!

At 55, I had more days behind me than ahead. I had done more things than I would do. I had spent more days working than I would not working (after ‘retirement’).  My children were approximately half my age and by the time they were the same age that I was, I would be … dead (well, perhaps not – my mother is 92 and still in relatively good health, and both my grandmothers lived to be 94 – but I certainly would be a heck of a lot older than I was now and in who-knew-what kind of physical condition!)

I believe we are all put on this earth for a purpose. Some people know early on what that is (Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, and the Buddha come to mind).  Most of us simply stumble through life doing the things we are ‘expected’ do to (as prescribed by our family, our position in society, etc.) or ‘trained’ to do (by an education system that decrees ‘every child shall choose a career path by the time they are 13’).  But a few lucky ones come ‘into their own’ later in life.  They eschew the idea that the dreams they carried in their hearts when they were young can’t be achieved; they walk away from established careers and, sometimes, from suffocating marriages or other relationships; they reinvent themselves as the people they always wanted to ‘grow up’ to be.

This radical transformation is often seen as a ‘mid-life crisis’ (it usually occurs somewhere between the ages of 40 and 55) and it confuses (and often enrages) family, friends, and acquaintances, who can’t (or don’t want to) see how anyone could ‘throw away the best years of their life’ in order to pursue a dream that might be nebulous at best.  But these courageous individuals aren’t crazy – they are brilliant, adventurous, and absolutely of sound mind and body (the parts that still work, anyway)!  Instead of accepting the inevitability of life as they’ve known it, they go after what they want – they turn their ‘best before’ dates into ‘best after’ dates.

And so – not long after my milestone birthday – I have made the decision to join this intrepid group of ‘hasn’t beens’ in reinventing my life.  I’ve left a well-paying job in a demoralizing environment to pursue my first passion – writing (the career path my high school guidance counsellor [in 1969] convinced my parents was an disreputable choice for a young woman to pursue).

This blog is the first step towards what I hope will become a full-fledged writing career (it’s just one of many avenues I’m following).  New material will be posted weekly;  if you want to receive an email alert of all new postings, you can subscribe via the menu at the right.   The articles will be an irreverent, often nostalgic, and occasionally cynical look at living, loving, and managing the ups and downs of this stage of life.   I will also post short stories, articles, and other published works. With luck (and a little hard work), I hope to turn some of my ‘musings’ into a book and then … well, who knows??!?!?  I refuse to dwell on ‘what ifs’, ‘if onlys’ and ‘best befores’ any more, because life IS short and I plan to savour every bit that’s left … on the other side of 55.


  1. Greg Cormier permalink
    September 20, 2010 10:14 am

    Since you are behind me in years and I already have the title of “grand” (which was earned along with loss of hair and what is left is grey), your thoughts are right on the mark. Keep up the good work and obviously there is a love of writing mixed in with the wisdom. Well done!!!

  2. September 17, 2010 11:14 am

    i like your philosophy of the “best after” date and will
    post your words on my bulletin board for inspiration.
    i enjoyed your reading at cj’s the other night too.
    cheers, jennifer

  3. Donna Zaborsky permalink
    September 1, 2010 12:13 pm

    Loved it – real motivator for the reader! Keep it coming.


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