This past weekend I turned 41. In the last few weeks preceding my birthday, the curves seem slow and deliberate. A slight pensiveness accompanied my days. Shoulders tightened, irritation churned in my gut and various emotions shot like an uncontrolled geyser. I suspected this angst is what comes with time’s passage.
Yet, I realized, simultaneously I am blessed with so much gratitude that threads the seconds of my life together. The morning of my birthday I did what I always do. I unloaded the dishwasher, putting every dish, bowl and spoon in its place. This simple task breathes comfort into my morning. As soon as the last dish finds its home, I turned on my coffee maker and listened to the sound of the coffee dripping into one of my favorite coffee mugs. On my birthday I brewed two cups, one for me and another for my sister. She surprised me the night before by flying in for my birthday. I thought, for several moments on Saturday that I am so lucky that I am spending my birthday with the people I love the most, my mom (who flew in earlier this month), sister, husband and daughter. We spent the day hanging out, while my mom made my favorite foods. We celebrated in the evening by bowling, where my mom bowled for the first time. Laughter and high-fives filtered the time in-between our attempts to knock down all the pins.
As my birthday weekend ended on Sunday, I reflected on some of the lessons I’ve absorbed as I stand at the beginning of another decade. Here is what I’ve learned:
There is comfort in boredom. Making lunches, washing dishes and doing laundry are all reminders that it is privilege to not only take care of myself, but to take care of others.
Exercising isn’t optional. It is a necessity. There are days that I may not want to run outside or head to the gym, but then I think about the countless people who are robbed of this privilege. I must confess that I do sometimes exercise for reasons that have more to do with vanity, but I know in my marrow that I cannot take the ability to move my limbs for granted.
Travel must come when you are young. There are swerves that occur as you age. You cannot predict the severity of these sudden changes, but sometimes they might limit the distance that you can travel.
In the fourth decade, definite principles must guide friendships. Know your tribe and don’t sacrifice those friendships for popularity. Quantity rarely means quality. Accept that some friendships may wane. Sometimes you may be to blame, but in some instances it is the natural course of that particular relationship. It took some time for me to realize that people can enter and exit into your life and that there is no one to blame for this evolution.
Understanding that at forty-one, the definition of ambition is different. It means having a chance to do what I love, which is to write. However, it doesn’t mean that this love always equates to revenue.
In my midlife, I am holding on to certain intangibles with a fierce grip. That means holding on to my daughter’s kisses and hugs and cherishing a shared moment with my mom in the same room. I know those days are numbered.
The windows of certain slits are closing. With my feet firmly in the forties, the questions about having another baby will cease. More and more, my conversations revolve around school and homework and kindness, rather than diapers, car seats and baby food.
There will always be memories of people who you miss. Accepting the grief that comes along with that hole is normal. I will always, everyday of my life, miss my father. As my family anchored me on Saturday evening during dinner, I said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if Dad could make a special appearance, at least for my birthday?” I laughed as I said it, but inside, not having him present still hurts. I will never get over losing my Dad.
Marriage becomes something that is understood not in grand gestures, but in quieter actions. An impromptu floral bouquet on the kitchen table, a spontaneous date night or the silence that is accompanied in the togetherness becomes the backbone of married life. Recognizing that the idea of a soul mate only belongs in literature is a hallmark of getting older. Marriage is about grit and love and sharing sorrows and joys.
Forty-one means knowing less and less about big questions, but understanding more and more what is important. It is trying to be more deliberate toward mindfulness, God and coming to terms with knowing that more years are behind you than possibly ahead.
It is about giving thanks and learning to focus on what is, instead of what isn’t, as the anthem of your life.