Last week, I celebrated my 39th birthday. There was not a lot of fanfare, in part because as we get older, birthdays aren’t big events anymore (and certainly not those that aren’t evenly divided by 5) and partly because my three year-old’s birthday is just 2 days later.
Nonethless, it provides an opportunity for stepping outside of myself and looking at the situation. Forty is one of those milestone birthdays. Your life, for all intents and purposes, is roughly half over (and probably a little more than half). That sobering thought causes a sense of both pride and depression at the same time. Proud for what I have accomplished, sad for what I have not – and never will. But that is normal.
Life, you come to realize, is about ups and downs and acceptance. Accepting your lot, your limitations, your skills and your blessings. No matter how many blessings, of course, we end up focusing on the limitations. — “If only I’d been born rich, or smarter, or taken that class, or not taken that class, or gone on a trip or asked whats-her-name to dance in the 7th grade.” Of course, after picking our lives apart and beating ourselves up for a while, we re-focus on those things that are really important – our blessings.
Our children might be struggling at school, or with making friends, or with making friends at school – but they are healthy and happy and none of their problems are all that unusual. If your children do have serious problems, you might feel sad but then realize that you are learning something about bringing patience, joy & strength to a situation no matter how difficult it becomes. Our careers might be far from what we’d imagined, but even that is usually the outcome of other decisions that had some unintended consequences – so we really can’t blame ourselves for that, either, so we remember to focus on the fact that we’re at least still gainfully employed.
So, with this milestone event looming before me, I am discovering that I have learned two things. The first is that there’s a remarkable resliency to life. No matter how disappointing things become, hopes for something better always re-emerge. Sometimes, that hope might do more harm than good (we never seem to know how to quit when we’re ahead) but it’s always there. It’s an unavoidable fact – everything that goes down eventually comes back up, and back down again, and back up once more.
Getting older, however, is a bit of a bittersweet phenomenon, nonetheless. We realize how much we’ve accomplished and how much wisdom we’ve gained, and we look forward to our opportunities to both apply thins wisdom and share it, and to gain even more as we go about our lives until the end of our days. But that’s where the bitter part comes in – that we will have an end to our days, and it’s getting ever closer. But – remembering to think about the good things – we realize it’s been a good life and, afterall, we’re just playing our part in the best way that we can.
Which reminds me that the second thing I’ve learned is an even greater certainty than the first: That the best thing about pushing forty is that at least I’m not pulling it.