I turned 40 last month. Which is fine. I’ve been almost 40 for a couple years so I’ve gotten used to the idea. But the rest of the world seems to think this is very bad news.
A perusal of birthday cards for those of us beginning our 4th decade is downright depressing. And not just because of the bad rhymes. “40, the Ultimate F Word,” “ Turning 40 is like hitting the age spot jackpot,” and the worst: “Every time a woman turns 40 a cougar is born.” Wow. If I believed any of that, things would seem bleak. And then there’s the old stand by: “Over the hill.” What hill does this refer to? It must have a looooong downslope if I’ve already hit the top and am making my descent. What a 1950s view of age. I reject it.
Say I’m half way to the end of my story (which certainly isn’t certain). What sort of a story arc is it if the climax comes at mid-point? I prefer what I was taught in high school – that the climax comes late in the tale, after mostly rising action full of ups and downs, and the falling action just a bit before THE END. I’m not ready for the denouement. Yes, my body isn’t working as well as it has in years past. There are wrinkles on my face that won’t unfurl after I wake. And I admit that some things sag and others expand a bit more each day. But here’s the great thing: it’s all good. I couldn’t have said that about myself when I was in my twenties. Though I’m not as thin, not as young, I’m so much more comfortable in this house of a body. This home of a spirit. So much more ready to take on the day with confidence and humility and joy. 40 is the new 30, and my thirties were great, so I’m down with being what used to be thought of as old.
I recently finished reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. It’s the story of Louis Zamperini, a child delinquent turned Olympic athlete turned World War II P.O.W. Turned 70-year-old skateboarder, turned eighty-one-year-old Olympic torch bearer, turned 90-year-old skier. Among all the amazing aspects of his life, one sparkling achievement was never deciding he was old. He knew he was still living. He left behind the evil he’d experienced in the war and focused on what was ahead. It has been a sweet and forceful reminder that such a thing is possible. And at just the right time.
“Well, it’s been a decade of awesomeness,” my son declared the morning of his tenth birthday. A pretty great perspective. I’m stealing it. Four decades of awesomeness sounds a lot better than thinking I’m on my way out. And perspective effects everything. If you center your thinking on all things negative – the times you have failed, hurt others, looked a fool, struggled to keep your head above water – then you are doomed to keep that bummer of a world and self view. But if, rather, you accept those things – own up to them and ask forgiveness – then move the heck on, peace and contentment are possible. Thank goodness for that.
So I choose to be glad I’ve reached 40. Glad I’m past all the past and ready for the next decade’s story to be written. I’m hoping for more rising action. Not willing to welcome the denouement. 40 is nothing. I’m just getting started.