Today I turn 40. First and foremost I want to thank my mom. Because especially now that I’ve had two children of my own I know that on this day 40 years ago she was in the most excruciating of pain imaginable. I also know now that that was the first of many sacrifices she made for me. Though, I’m sure I’ll never know all of them—on this day I want to thank you Mom for making them. I’ve made it 40 years now. And even if I do say so myself, I think I turned out alright.
Forty seems like a big deal to me. I keep thinking, “There’s no going back now.” It’s ironic I know because when is there ever any going back? Still, it seems momentous. I’m either halfway, or almost halfway there—wherever there is.
It’s made me ponder the decades as I’ve lived them so far.
In my teens I was still just learning about the world. But I remember I had this sense that everything had always been a certain way, and that things would always be that way. I had no notion then of how wars, and stock markets, and the Internet could change and create whole vibes that would define eras. I had no idea that the whole of humanity was evolving together, changing their thinking in subtle ways as they went along so that a few decades might go by before they realized that, for example, they used to use payphones and now they’re pretty much obsolete. Then, I was just discovering my world. I still remember all those experiences—first loves, that needful urge to fit in, that awkwardness of trying to, and how my parents, especially my mom defined the rules of my world. Even then I was aware, perhaps painfully so, of how that last piece wouldn’t be the case forever, but it didn’t make living by her rules any easier. Can you say grounded? Oh I could, sometimes for more than a month at a time.
In my twenties I woke up to the fact that I could make a difference. Along with that came the notion that everyone should be making a difference too— of course in accordance with my values. I worked for the environment. I recycled. I refused paper bags from the grocery store. I thought, like many twenty-something-year-olds, it was my job to convince other people of the importance of certain things—namely of living in the ideal fashion of my design. I lectured my parents on ways to live more greenly. I argued playfully with my grandfather in the grocery store about whether he really needed those Styrofoam cups. I lived in a city (Portland, OR) that eventually outlawed Styrofoam (at least in restaurants). I also traveled—an unbelievably glorious amount. I visited four continents—and for extended times, a year, two sometimes. Many of the experiences that would go on to define my thirties started in the last year of my twenties. One of those was a complete and utter disengagement from the news, as in television and newspaper reporting. I was an environmentalist at the time and witnessed the sick and depressing effect that listening to the news had on everyone around me—and simply put I decided to stop. Also, I began to yearn for something more. I turned toward god— for me it was in the form of yoga and meditation.
In my thirties, I experienced god. I lived in an ashram where I chanted and meditated every day. And I began to write. I was hired to write. During this decade I learned that it was more important to discover (and do) what was right for me then to care about the choices that other people were making. I made allowances for people. I started to understand that choices weren’t so absolute. That everybody had their own reasons—and valid ones—for choosing their paths, and that even I would change as I went along. I let them make their own decisions—and I stopped caring what those were or how they might be different from mine. I started taking paper bags at the grocery store—and I didn’t feel a sting of guilt about it. Instead of trying to change other people I began thinking primarily about the ways in which I wanted to change myself. I devoured and collected tools that would help me turn again and again toward happiness whenever I fell off that path. I moved across the country and I discovered my home—first in the sense of a place (the island where I live) and then in the sense of the person—the man who later became my husband. I still remember the sensation I experienced one of the first times he put his arms around me, and I can still only describe it as home and heaven. And of course, again at the tail end of this decade I did something that will likely have profound influence on the next 10 years as well—I had kids.
In my forties, well that’s yet to be discovered. But for me I feel that it holds a sense of anchoring and of spreading out, a sense of becoming better at what I already do: as a writer, an artist, a mother, a wife, a lover of this world, a traveler, a friend, a foe (just kidding), and perhaps aspects of myself that I’ve yet to discover. I know that it encompasses a sense of community, of family, and heart. But most of all I feel it holds a sense of flourishing—a heightening of and a solidifying of dreams that have always been mine—but whose time has finally come.
I look forward to this decade with gusto and warmth and I welcome with open arms all the goodness it will undoubtedly bring.
Did you have a sense of significant change when you turned 40? Or on any other birthday? If so, I’d love to hear what that meant for you.