"Life begins at forty." - W. B. Pitkin
I am going to be 40 years old tomorrow. By the time you get to 40, it seems like many people are dreading having another birthday. Not me. To start with, to have a birthday means to have made it through this world another year and be fortunate enough to be looking forward to another one. That right there is enough cause for joyful celebration. I was diagnosed with cancer nine days before my 25th birthday; that can change your perspective on the whole birthday thing quite a bit. So can getting to the other side of heart surgery, chronic autoimmune illness, and severe depression. When you are a survivor of anything, whether it be illness, death of a loved one, abuse, the list goes on and on; birthdays are an opportunity for us to celebrate ourselves and what we have endured. It is a chance to say "Yes I have gotten here". It also is a chance to be hopeful that maybe, just maybe, the next year can help us realize some of our hopes and dreams.
I have to be honest; it really bothers me when people complain about having another birthday, whether it be their 40th or any other year. I just don't get it. I know that my perspective about the birthday thing is not always the same view other people have. As a society, we don't usually value getting older and a birthday is a reminder that we are in fact getting older.
Maybe we are afraid of getting sick...
Maybe we are afraid of death...
Maybe we are afraid we won't be as useful as we once were...
Maybe we are just disappointed that we have not accomplished what we thought we would.
See, I don't look at it like that. I have even tried to look at it like that so I can be relatively sympathetic to my friend's complaints (I have quite a few turning 40 this year!) but the truth is: I am grateful to see that big "40" on a cake or on a card. It means I got 5484 more days than I originally planned on when I was 24 years old.
That being said, the course of my life has veered quite drastically from where I planned it to go when I was 18, 20, or even 30 years old. At this point, I was supposed to be married with 2.2 kids, a few dogs, and a house with a white picket fence. I was supposed to have some financial security as well as a fabulous nursing career. I was not supposed to spend the better part of my 20's and 30's dealing with so much illness, stress, and heartbreak. Ahh, the best laid plans.
So where did my life end up at 40 years of age? I'm divorced with no kids, not financially secure by any means (well heck, who is these days?), out of work for over two years, and I have complicated health issues. I also ended up with an incredible circle of friends, a loving family, a pretty cool (although oftentimes psychotic) dog, a warm home, a loving and supportive church family, a relationship with God, and a man who has redefined for me what it is to truly love.
On the way to 40, I have also ended up with a very strong sense of self. I have learned to love myself and to value the gifts I have to share in this world. I cannot say that about the former 30 year old version of myself. I have confidence. I even like who I am on most days. As I approach 40, I am learning to be more physically comfortable in my own skin. I have to say, that still remains one of my biggest challenges; maybe I will have mastered it by the time I am 50.
I have learned a lot about how to be a good friend and partner.
I have had the opportunity to work with people who have faced much greater hardships than I can ever imagine.
I have learned to treat my body with the respect that it deserves.
I have learned how to be grateful.
I have stopped living my life as a race and instead have learned to live each day like it is a privilege.
I guess it is true what they say about wisdom coming with age.
Photo: Courtesy of Chuck Myers