06 February 2014
forty is the new forty
forty is not the new twenty. forty is not even the new thirty. forty is the new forty. because forty is forty. forty is good, forty is great, forty doesn't need to pretend to be anything it isn't.
I did not always feel this way. I mean, I opened my arms to forty, or said I was going to or something like that. I said I was ready, I said I wanted it but I didn't mean it, I didn't want it, not for a second. I stood at forty's door and stared hopelessly through it and that cool woman I thought for sure I'd be, the one who'd embrace every wrinkle, every grey hair, every sag, every ounce of droop, the unashamed, unapologetic one who'd wear those imperfections like the aging champion she'd surely be, that woman was nowhere to be found. that woman was probably someone my twenty-something self foolishly invented. and so I began to see myself in photographs and think, is that what I look like? what I really look like? and then-- holy crap, am I actually that woman? who sees herself in photographs and asks things like that?
and then vanity became the least of my worries. things fell apart. my mom got sick and I watched her die, slowly. some other sad things happened and I got tired. I blamed forty. if this is what it means to be forty, I said, I want no part of it. if turning forty means things only get harder, that the hill before me tilts impossibly upward, no thank you. if it means I will care (more than I'd like to admit) about what kinds of clothes I should or should not wear, what shade of lipstick is age appropriate, where that one wrinkle came from or why I look so tired all the time (when I'm not tired, not even a little bit), if this is what forty means, I don't want it. if it means wallowing in a tepid pool of nostalgia for the rest of my days, then you can have it. and more importantly, if it means watching the people I love die then I DON'T WANT IT, OKAY. I DON'T WANT YOU, FORTY. I REJECT YOU.
so I rejected forty, I refused it. but, as you know, it does not work this way. as it turns out, this is not exactly possible and when things finally quieted down, so did the crazy talk. I cannot tell you when things changed for me but they did. somewhere along the way, I softened. there was no lightbulb moment, no woo-woo life altering experience. I just gradually found myself in that place, that good place you sometimes hear people talk about, that place you've earned simply because you have lived. and you love the way you look but you don't love the way you look and somehow, these feelings now co-exist in a way you never thought possible. you lose people you love and the heartbreak changes you so profoundly you cannot help but see your time in the world with new eyes, you cannot help but live with just a little bit of a lump in your throat. thing is, this is what makes the living good. better, even. the fragile, teetering part, the knowing part, the one that finally acknowledges that time is not infinite and you are not actually immortal. and when you see things with these eyes, the world around you changes. when you see forty with these eyes, forty is beautiful. because you are alive and you know what that means, what that really, really means. you are both flawed and flawless, broken but completely intact, imperfectly perfect. you are in your own skin, your own God-given skin. finally. and it feels good, even if it is changing, it feels right.
which is when you realize forty is not the new twenty. it is not the new thirty, it is not the new anything. forty is forty because calling it anything else would be an insult to the decade you've worked so hard to find your way into. pretending it's anything else means you've missed the point entirely. forty is forty and what you now know in your bones is that you wouldn't have it any other way.
(for lovely susannah and all the lovely women who've shared their story in honor of her 41st birthday and for all women everywhere, whatever your age)