I have a birthday tomorrow. I’m very happy about this. Keep ’em coming, please and thank you.
They keep coming.
Turning 40, four years ago, was great. But I’m struggling a little bit with being in my forties. Still. All the issues I grappled with at the end of my book as I approached my fortieth birthday are as present as ever. Maybe more so. I don’t write about them much, because I feel like I should be over it already. Because it will make me seem like a shallow person, preoccupied with the loss of youth, attached to all the wrong things.
I’m not preoccupied. But I’m not over it either. I grieve sometimes. I get hot pangs of jealousy toward people in their thirties. Never twenty-somethings or teens. Just the thirties. I’m jealous that they still have their full share of time, and mine is dwindling. I’m the regretful gambler, watching players with fresh chips stepping up to the table.
This is nonsense. I know that. Intellectually. I do. It’s emotionally immature and spiritually unenlightened. Nobody is going to pin “getting older is complicated, and it’s hard sometimes” as an inspirational quote.
I don’t nurse these feelings. But they arise.
This the other side of the Other Side of Angst that I wrote about the other day. I was trying to work it into that reflection, but I couldn’t reconcile these two truths: 1) I’m past angst. 2) I’m experiencing some angst.
My Jungian friend Susan always said that the deepest truth resides in the tension between opposites. In paradox.
Midlife is full of paradox.
When I wrote about coming up on 40 in my memoir, I could see the parallels between adolescence and midlife, but I didn’t grasp how far the analogy would carry. The transition between childhood and young adulthood doesn’t happen in a single milestone year, and the passage between young adulthood and late adulthood doesn’t either. I was so focused on that one birthday. If I could meet the big four-oh with enough gusto, I’d be magically launched into the next phase of life.
But after 40, there’s 41. And after that, 42. And it starts to register that this has been a one way ticket all along.
Maybe other people come to terms with that easily and swiftly. It’s taking me a little while.
So my birthday gift to myself is to extend to myself the same acceptance that’s so easy to give my child as he sheds one way of being for another. To not diminish my experience by dismissing the uncomfortable parts. Life after forty is as vibrant and varied as ever, and I look forward to all that’s still to come. And some days I feel the loss of what was, and what will never be, and I grieve.
If I may ask for a birthday gift from you, it would be some reassurance that I’m not alone in this mixed bag of feelings. More than bold slogans and inspirational quotes about life beginning at 40 (I collect plenty of those), I’d like to also know that it’s normal to feel a sense of loss as I shed my younger skin. If you’re experiencing that, or are on the other side of it, I would love to hear about it.