January 12, 2013

50 & Waking Up. ~ Alix Armstrong

Brief observations of life encounters as a person who decided to try completely new experiences when she hit 50 years old.

The Flat Tire.

This morning, I planned a beautiful bike ride on the trail but then realized my bike had a flat tire. Immediate frustration on my only day off; I wouldn’t let it bring me down.

So instead, I walked my kayak down the block to put it in the river.

As I drifted down river, I thought about how different everything looked from the water, although I often pass these points from land. It’s all about perception.

At one point, my kayak came to a floating stop and I began to relax to the point of slumber. Another paddler came by and asked me some questions about this section of the Yough. Then, he took a moment to teach me some river-paddling language.

As I turned for the trip back up, I thought about the river being like walking, running or biking a series of hills on land, sometimes it is so easy to go down and then there is the tough ride up.

Still, when I reached the landing, I felt peaceful and alive—I had a different perception and learned something new.

Thank goodness for the flat tire.

Winter Solstice.

It was once important, because a community was not sure if they would make it through the cold winter and it was time to prepare for this possibility.

Tonight, I chose to begin the solstice as many did with 108 sun salutations.

While I was working through yet another ‘high to low push-up,’ I was not thinking about whether or not I would survive the frigid winter days, or for that matter, of the 21st of the month, but I did feel like I was preparing for possibilities that I cannot even imagine.

Maybe it was the brain chemicals released by the blood pumping to my head, or maybe it was the candle-lit, very hot room, but I felt completely free as I commanded my body to make it to the end.

Did I drink enough water? Probably not, but I felt more relaxed with each minute that passed.

When it ended and I was still so deeply in savasana that I could not move, I could feel each drop of salty liquid that rose out of my body and push through to the surface of my skin.

None of us know if we will make it through the cold winter, but at that moment it didn’t matter to me: I had total acceptance that I could just ebb away in this peace and float into darkness.

Later in the evening, after some celebration, I stepped outside into the biting snow feeling totally prepared for the coming winter and the unknown possibilities of living.

Snowballs and the New Year.

Saturday night’s comforting dinner was shared with a friend of 27 years and her family during their trip home from San Diego. She and I bonded during college, while I was pouring drinks and she was serving them at the ‘dirty O’.

Now, there are two young boys in her life who were very excited about Pittsburgh snow, making snowballs and rolling them down a hill. It was decided by one of them that just like in the movies, snowballs did get bigger while gravity moved them along.

This thought stuck in my head for a couple days, as I thought about the start of another year. I actually began to feel like everything going in my life was balled-up, growing in size as it tumbled down the hill, destined to explode on impact; that this could actually happen at midnight, when the ball dropped in Times Square.

Somehow, at the very instant that the shimmering globe hit bottom, I could burst into bits and have a completely new start, just as fresh as the snow flakes falling to the ground.

Today, I did not have to wait for both hands of the clock to point to midnight to hit that bottom of the hill; it happened more like five o’clock, when the sky was an odd, deep blue as the dusk began…about the same blue as my car, which is probably why she didn’t see it as her rear bumper settled deep into my driver’s side door.

In the lot of Giant Eagle, where I only had to be because the Pharmacy Tech gave me the wrong prescription the day prior, on my way home from two hours of unwinding the mess of my elderly parents’ bills, after a day of organized chaos at work.

I laughed; my car would be going to the body shop and I laughed.

Any moment is the moment I can let go, smashing that tumbling snowball to smithereens…I didn’t have to wait until a new year to feel this freedom.


Today, like every work day, I park my car under the bridge and look over at the sleeping homeless man buried deep into his sleeping bag, his bed is a variety of flattened cardboard boxes.

I have a moment of anxiety as I wonder if he is still alive, or if he has drifted into a deep hypothermia-induced sleep and will still be there in the evening when I return to my car. But tonight, he was not and again I was relieved.

I’m certain he doesn’t know that I care about him, his nameless body lying on the other side of the fence…and for all I know he might have a weapon.

I ask myself, “So what is your trivial problem today, Alix? Take your overfed ass to your warm house and be grateful for every moment you have been granted.”


Alix Armstrong lives along the Youghiogheny River in southwest Pennsylvania. As a public health professional, she works in the field of behavioral health, encouraging people to make healthy lifestyle changes. Since she turned 50, she volunteer teaches a mat Pilates class and runs half marathons. At 53, while living the later half of life, she would like to share how it feels to be on the later side of life.


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Assistant Ed: Terri Tremblett

Ed: Bryonie Wise


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