In 40 days, I will turn 40. I thought it would freak me out. I thought it would depress me. I thought I’d feel a little panicky about being old and settled like I did when I turned 30 and had just bought our first house, given birth to our first child, and bought our first minivan. But in an odd sort of way, I welcome it. Forty sounds like a good age to be. People take you seriously when you’re forty. You’re young enough to still think youthfully, but old enough to have gained some wisdom along the way.
I feel content. I’m at a good place to be approaching a milestone like this. I’ve gotten good at a few things, had a few accomplishments along the way, learned from lots of mistakes, continued to find opportunities to be foolish and carefree, traveled to some interesting places, had some great relationships, found my soulmate and worked hard at making our marriage work, watched my children grow into interesting little people, had some interesting and challenging jobs, followed my passions, and found ways to touch people and let them touch me along the way. Don’t get me wrong - there have been lots of road bumps, some tragedies and really dark places, fear, loneliness, and more than one utter failure, but all of that has only helped the molding and shaping of me into a person I quite like to be.
One of the greatest things about getting older is that you get more comfortable in your skin - you’re more willing to learn from other people and less concerned about proving that you have stuff figured out, you know yourself better, you’ve figured out some of the things that make you happy, and you get better at discerning which risks are worth taking.
Not long ago, there was an article in the paper written by a woman who was turning thirty with much dread and resistance. She lamented the lines on her face, the grey hairs popping up, and all the other physical signs that she was not as young as she once was. Short of plastic surgery, she was doing almost everything she could to stop the aging process. The woman who wrote the story is a friend and former employee of mine. I hired her for her first “real” job, and I mentored her and had an influence in her life. I like her – quite a bit – but the article saddened me. I was sad that she hadn’t learned to embrace the aging process. I was sad that she fought what nature had in mind for her. After I saw the article, I looked in the mirror at the deepening lines in my face and decided that I would embrace them, whatever the cost. The lines in my face tell a story – they map my history. They make my face more gentle and maybe a little more wise. I don’t want a twenty-year-old face when I have a forty-year-old soul.
As I look toward the next decade of my life, I feel incredibly hopeful about the future. The little bits of wisdom I’ve picked up along the journey have helped me see the future through clearer, more interesting lenses. At thirty, the future looked a little scary and heavy. With a new mortgage, a new baby, and a fairly new marriage, I felt like I was picking up the world and placing it firmly on my shoulders. I felt so unprepared and inexperienced. I didn’t feel quite ready for the next ten years. Now, ten years later, with our second mortgage and our third child, I feel so much more experienced and more prepared for the next decade. Life gets easier with experience.
At forty, I have so much to look forward to. I look forward to having more time on my hands as my children get older and need me less. I look forward to needing less money to survive (or at least not being the sole bread-winner in the house) and being able to do more things because I’m passionate about them and fewer things because I get a pay cheque for doing them. I look forward to learning more things from interesting and creative people. I look forward to teaching more people some of the interesting things I’ve learned in my 40 years. I look forward to trying new things – like painting – I’ve always wanted to learn to paint. I look forward to watching my children figure out what their gifts are, and I look forward to letting them teach me things. I look forward to reading more, playing more, creating more, learning more, seeing more, doing more, teaching more, eating more, loving more, and understanding more.
To help me bring on this hopeful future, I’ve decided that, for the next forty days, I will go on a bit of a personal pilgrimage. You could call it a belated lent season, I suppose. To be more prepared for all the “mores” I have ahead of me, I want to spend a little time making sure I’m healthy enough, both physically and spiritually, to get the most out of them. Here’s what I plan to do:
1. Spend at least 15 minutes a day doing something for my physical health. Mostly, it will probably be walking or biking (this morning was a good start!), but I think I might try a few new things. I’m thinking of signing up for yoga. Sometimes I’ll do things with the kids – like swimming on a Saturday afternoon. In the meantime, I’ll try to eat less compulsively and more mindfully (I’m still waiting for the book I ordered – Eating Mindfully).
2. Spend at least 15 minutes a day doing something for my spiritual health. I want to read the Bible more, pick up some good books that inspire me, pray, meditate, listen to spiritual teachings, etc. If possible, I’d like to walk the labyrinth again. I’ve been doing a little reading on mindfulness and meditation, and I want to make it more a part of my life.
3. Spend at least 15 minutes a day refreshing my creative spirit. I’m dusting off my copy of The Artist’s Way, and picking up the follow-up piece, Walking in this World that I bought a few years ago but never got around to reading. I’ll try to do some morning pages, maybe go on some “artist’s dates”, listen to good music, write some poetry, and try my hand at some new forms of creativity (like maybe some collages – something my daughters will probably enjoy participating in too).
4. Take a day (or at least a portion of a day) for a personal retreat. I’ve done this before and it’s a wonderful way to regroup and refresh. I may head out to St. Benedict’s again, or find another worshipful/peaceful place to spend a day.
I’ll be gentle on myself along the way. I won’t be too strict – sometimes the above activities will be combined (like a meditative walk through an art gallery, perhaps), and mostly I’ll forgive myself if I slip up. I’ll be gentle on my family too – I’ll look for opportunities to include them on the pilgrimage. And at the end of the 40 days, I may or may not continue – for now I only commit to the 40 days.
When I turn forty, forty days from now, I plan to indulge myself in something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I want to jump out of a plane – with a parachute attached, that is. I figure that will be a fitting way to round out my 40 day pilgrimage. Hopefully, it will be an energized, invigorated me jumping out of that plane and drifting down to earth. Whatever the case, at least I’ll have one more thing to add to the “great moments in my life” list when I turn 50.
(By the way, if anyone wants to join me for the jump, either to watch or participate, let me know!)