I have a birthday coming up this month. It’s kind of a big one. Society/the media/the greeting card industry say that this particular birthday should be an occasion for trepidation, fear, loathing, and jokes. I guess. But to be honest, I’m not entirely sure it’s that big a deal to me.
Okay, yes, it is a little bit depressing to think about turning forty. To most people, twenty sounds young; thirty sounds more sophisticated, but still young; forty is the age where you can no longer pretend that you are fresh out of college because no one is buying it. Forty sounds like mammograms and mortgages. It means no one asks you for your ID anymore when you buy a bottle of wine. It means that I am no longer as young as I think I am.
But on the other hand, would I want to go back to 30? No, because I like what the decade has brought me: two kids, a house, a writing career, new friendships, great memories. I had my share of suffering during my 30s, but it has schooled me in resilience and compassion. My spiritual life is different now from where it was at age 30; I believe that now it’s more nuanced, more elastic, more able to take the good and the bad together. That’s something I would not trade, at all. And if the cost of that are gray hairs and new wrinkles and odd little muscle-y twinges I never used to feel, I think that’s an okay deal.
My dad has a favorite saying, from the football coach Bo Schembechler: “You are either getting better, or you are getting worse.” Somehow, when I think of the big 4-0, that saying helps me understand why I’m not as wigged out by the milestone as I thought I’d be. I think I keep getting better at this thing called life — I’m trying to, at any rate. And that makes me feel like I can face forty with peace …maybe even with joy.