So I hit the big four-oh recently. 40. I know it’s just an arbitrary chronological marker, like 20 or 30, but you remember how seriously you took those particularly markers, don’t you? Crossing 20 was like the loss of your youth. Only one year away from legally drinking, your days of clandestine partying were just about over. Crossing 30 was like the loss of the rest of your youth. You could no longer be irresponsible and head out for the weekend on rock climbing or motorcycling adventures. Or so your psyche told you, anyway.
40 is much the same way. It’s telling me about all of the things that I’ve lost, about all of the things that I’m not “allowed” to do anymore, and all of the things that I “should” do now. And I’m having an incredibly difficult time with all of those “shoulds” and “alloweds” and everything that goes along with it. So what does being 40 years old really mean?
On the surface, it means just that: I have achieved 40 revolutions around the Sun, and no more. In my case, that’s a fine accomplishment. I should have been killed either by someone else’s hand or my own by now. The chances of being killed by someone else dropped considerably long ago when I didn’t live with either of my parents anymore. The chances of being killed by myself? Not as low, I admit. It’s times like those I’m glad I have such a loving husband, magickal daughter, spectacular friends, and a print of Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night” hanging over my desk. If Vincent could look through the bars of his sanitarium window and create that, then I have no room for complaint. So 40 revolutions around the Sun aren’t such a meager accomplishment for me, or for any of us, I’m guessing.
It also means coming face to face with some old baggage. I’ve had this weird notion since my 20s that there was a “wall” of sorts at 40. I could ‘see’ past my 20s and into my 30s and guess pretty well what I’d be doing, but I couldn’t see past 40. I still can’t. That’s terrifying and heartening at the same time. What am I going to be doing? Will I finally publish that book of mine? Will I simply keep trudging through the domestic life of Mom? A life that, I hate to admit, is not very satisfying. Culture tells me I’m supposed to feel guilty about that, but I don’t. A much smaller cultural template tells me that it’s just goddman fine to want to have a life of my own while I simultaneously walk the path of Mom. Maybe it’s right, though at the moment I lack other voices to hear and hands to hold to help me along that path. And I have a horrible fear of “doing the wrong thing”. Don’t we all?
If I kept along the path of Mom and nothing else, what comes after that? Nothing happy, I fear. If I keep along the path of “Hey, I can do both!”, what comes after that? Happiness? Unhappiness? Fulfillment? A happy daughter? An angry one? That’s really the crux of all this. I am raising a daughter, who is nearly 9. She wants to listen to pop music, and she wants her clothes to be just right, and boys make her feel “all melty”. I’m not sure if I’m ready for all that yet. I know the time of separation is coming sometime soon. The day when she will not run across the schoolyard with a belly-crunching hug and an “I love you” for me, because that will just not be cool. Or maybe it will and that’s just my fear speaking.
Speaking? My fear screams these days. It shouts from the rafters and tries to convince me that it will all be the same as when I grew up, and I shout back at it that it’s wrong and has no idea what it’s talking about because it’s never seen the things that I hope for. Hope’s in there too. Lovely Hope. Her voice is quieter, and I wish it were louder so that she could drown out all of the other voices that plague my mind.
That is what 40 means for me. Many veils to pass through, many doors to walk through, none of which I am familiar with because I have previously walked through a very different set of veils and doors that led to horrible places with angry faces and treacherous lessons. Now is when the last fetters of childhood are ripped asunder, and it’s going to smart. People keep telling me that the 40s are better than the 30s. I look at them with more than a bit of disbelief, but maybe they’re right, because I certainly don’t need any of the things that I hope to strip away or ignore. It’s just not going to be any fun at all, not for a while anyway.