My mother and I were on the phone last week, and she asked me how I was coping with the thought of my upcoming 40th birthday (may 6). She cited that she had unexpectedly had a very hard time with turning 40, and that she had ended up feeling far more emotional about it than she anticipated. She revealed to me that she had spent her 40th birthday mostly just crying privately, not wanting anyone to be upset on her behalf, and that she finally pulled herself together so that we kids could enjoy the party we had planned for her. My mom is very mindful, and didn't want to disappoint or worry us, obviously. But, while we didn't know it, she was suffering.
This new information about my mom's actual experience of her birthday stands in stark contrast to my own perceptions of my mother when she was 40. I remember 40 being the year my mom learned to curse like a sailor when she wanted to make a big point, to step up with a deft, Aikido-like intellectual skill and knock down logical fallacies without blinking, to eschew feelings-as-facts and demand accountability instead, and to assert her own right to enjoyment of life. My mother does not ever put down her mantle of maternal responsibility. But the year she turned 40 was the year I realized she was also truly a whole and complete person unto herself, rather than being mostly defined in my mind as "My Mom."
Both perceptions are valid. All of these things happened and they depict, together, some of the complexities of aging. I don't often think too hard about my age. I sort of identify as "timeless" in general. But 40 does seem like a big-ish deal, if only because of cultural expectations about the decade markers.
For my part, I have been examining my life recently, to see if there is anything "coming up from the basement" as Sam Webster puts it. Is there any fear of aging in me that I need to address? Do I have any resistance to the physical, mental, and emotional challenges that 40 may bring? Am I in any way blocking or failing to connect with the peace and centeredness of the personal authority that is growing within me at this time? Is there anything I have not yet done that I want to do, any major life goals that I want to accomplish?
Looking at my mom's example is instructive. I am able to place my feet in her footprints and see where her shoes fit and where they don't. Where have I already liberated myself at a younger age than she did, due to watching her example? Cursing like a sailor? Well, no problem. Stepping up to authority and willingness to self-advocate? Not really ever been an issue, as my parents can certainly attest. Any regrets? We all have our own, I suppose. Mine are fruitful, if painful, and dealable. Lust for life? YOU BETCHA.
I have always envisioned myself growing older with zest and grace, and with love for this life and this self. I do not want to nip, tuck, suck, pinch, squeeze, squash, or punish my body for doing what comes naturally to it. I prefer to enjoy the body I have, to support its journey and to observe the sensations that ripen and deepen in it with both age and greater self-confidence. I don't have a need to fit in with any age group any more. I am neither trying to act older nor trying to imitate youth. I'm just...here, now. I want to keep sucking the marrow from the bones of experience, as I have always done, but I am ready for a greater level of nuance in the experiences I choose to savor, and in my manner of savoring them. Not merely consuming pleasures, but dwelling in them more fully and lengthening the moments of appreciation.
I also have less to prove these days, and this is unlocking some new areas of my creativity. I don't really care what people think of me as much anymore. My Crone friends told me this was coming, and it is! I can feel this sense growing within me. Maybe I should say I feel like I am shedding a confining skin of desire for approval. Instead of reaching, reaching, reaching out and asking for permission to be OK, I am beginning to magnetize, to slow down, to enter stillness, and to allow the processes of life to unfold in plenty of inner space. I feel less need for control and more present in quiet personal authority.
My vision for myself at 40 is still taking shape in my mind, but I have begun assembling my ingredients and intentions. I know that 40 includes more silence, more reflection, more graciousness, more remembering of certain little details and forgetting of others. It includes less discursive reasoning and more embodiment. It includes lots of sex, fun and chocolate...but that was true all along.
Any of my Elders who have crossed this particular threshold care to share any wisdom with me as I approach this next step? Your comments are welcome.