Thursday, October 9, 2014

This is 40

At 40, I reflect on all the things I am grateful for
and look to the future with great anticipation.
Illustration by Phoebe Thomas for love, -j.

Before I was knit in my mother's womb, when I was in God's imagination, he jotted down the following notes about me:

She will have shiny black hair and almond-shaped eyes; she will be small in stature but strong in heart; she will have big dreams and at times get her head stuck in the clouds; she will sometimes think everything is way too complicated but know in her heart that the important things are actually quite simple; she won't take no for an answer; she will mistake accomplishments for significance (but her kids will teach her better); she will do things that surprise her; she will hate green olives, bad manners and injustice; she will love beautiful things; she will write because she wants to taste life twice; she will overuse the F word; her heart will break and mend; she will love and be loved; one day she will turn 40.

When I was a little girl, celebrating a 40th birthday meant you were older than dirt. Oh the things children think! Because this morning I woke up forty and I can tell you that I do not feel older than the earth. In fact, I've never felt more alive than I do right now.

I like to think of my forties as the beginning of Act II of my life's narrative (of course this all depends on me living well into my 80s -- which is what I'm hoping is written for me). The first Act was so full. So much love. So many memories. Beauty and imperfection. Joy. Heartache. Perspective. Gratitude. What a damn good adventure it's been so far.

If my 20s were about finding myself and figuring out what I wanted in adulthood (independence, new experiences, a meaningful career), my 30s represented a season of firsts -- getting married, starting a family, going through an identity crisis upon entering motherhood, trying to get settled into a writing career, and seeing how "leaning in" plays out in real life.

At 40, grace abounds. I forgive myself. I feel comfortable in my skin. I trust myself more. My accomplishments have more to do with the inner workings of my soul than my to-do lists. I don't care as much for people's approval and have way less time for the petty. 

Turning 40 makes me reflect on all the things I’ve done with my body (the greatest being birthing two beautiful children!). I'm so grateful for what it can do (hike to the top of Half Dome, scale an ancient samurai castle with a baby strapped to my back, run a 5K). And because my body is my temple, I will treat it with care so I can sit here in another 40 years and say, “Wow! Look at all the things I did! I took ballet! I wrote a book! I learned how to fly! I traveled to every continent on the planet! I went to space! I have grandchildren!”

There's great satisfaction in the number 40. Maybe it's because I’m exactly where I want to be. It's not so much about where I've lived or the jobs I've had or how many goals I've checked off my list. It has more to do with the immaterial: the sacred history I'm building with my husband; watching my children grow into caring, thoughtful human beings; nurturing relationships with those dearest to me and leaving room for new friendships to blossom.

In my 20s and 30s, I wasn't OK with not knowing exactly where I was going. Back then, it was all about the destination. But at 40, I'm OK with not having all the answers. I'm OK with figuring things out as I go. I like mystery. I’m willing to bend, take bigger risks and go on crazy adventures because wisdom has whispered to me, "Time goes really, really fast as you grow older. So do it now!!"

I still have so much to learn. I have a long way to go. And I'm excited by this because I know it's not so much about beginnings and endings as it is about going on and on and on. My life is a great and continuous unfolding.

I read this and I think it perfectly describes the next decade: "These are the in-between years, the thick, hot heart of life's grand pageant, busy and rich and exhausting, overflowing with demands, responsibilities and love."

What will happen in Act II? God only knows the beginning and the end but I'm writing the stuff that happens in the middle. I look forward to filling that notebook of his with lots and lots of pages.      

Thanks once again to Phoebe Thomas for her lovely original illustration for this post.