Bits of Beauty

Spring peeked her head out today from behind one of the dreariest winters I  can remember, reminding me of the sunnier days ahead and the simple things in each day for which I can be grateful.  Here are the bits of beauty I found today:

First – there was this beautiful Bon Iver song “Holocene,” which has been haunting me for months.  Magnificent….


Then I discovered unexpected flowers blooming in a potted tree on my outdoor balcony!

I’ve been reading a lot of Rumi lately and read more today….(Read some Rumi if you have not done so already, if you have ever loved someone with all your heart, if you have ever loved with guts and glory but still failed miserably, if you possess even the tiniest bit of soul, if you are living for Spring, if you pray by the ocean, if you are looking for Grace, if you could use some wisdom in your life, if you are desperate for Summer to arrive so you can dive deep down into the waves)

from “Where Everything is Music”                                                                 

Stop the words now.  Open the window in the center of your chest, and let the spirits fly in and out. 

from “Flutes for Dancing”

We will drink all this wine tonight because it’s Spring. It is. It’s a growing sea. We’re clouds over the sea, or flecks of matter in the ocean when the ocean seems lit from within. I know I’m drunk when I start this ocean talk.

from “Dissolver of Sugar”

Pale sunlight, pale the wall. Love moves away. The light changes. I need more grace than I thought.

My sister, Emily, texted me a photo of this amazingly cool and intricate doodle she just created.  Such artistry can only spring from the soul.

 

What bits of beauty will tomorrow bring?……

Olive Kitteridge

Atticus and Scout Finch.  Nick Carraway.  Mrs. Dalloway.  Lucy Snowe. Holden Caulfield.  Huck Finn.  Paddington.  Corduroy,  Curious George.  Amelia Bedelia, Nancy Drew, Lisbeth Salander.   The list goes on and on.  I have been collecting favorite literary characters since I was a tiny little reader, curling up on a deck chair under the big turquoise vinyl umbrella or wrapped in my favorite afghan at night, escaping into some adventure with these new friends of mine.  Just when I thought my list might have reached its end, however, there she was, jumping out at me from the page, an unexpected find like a shiny new penny on a sidewalk:  Olive Kitteridge, the heroine (or anti-heroine, perhaps, depending on your perspective) of Elizabeth Strout’s novel of the same name.

I loathed Olive (yes, we are on a first-name basis after traveling thirteen chapters together) at first meeting.  Critical and chronically grumpy, she snapped at her husband, Henry, one too many times for my liking.  Henry, on the other hand, struck me as quietly honorable, tolerating Olive’s outbursts and criticisms with a gentle patience, love and loyalty.  I felt myself rooting for him, even empathizing with his becoming distracted by a young female assistant.

Upon meeting Olive for a second time, however, I felt my heart slowly soften.  It’s a simple scene really.  Seagulls squawking above an incoming tide.  A car parked at the marina.  Olive climbing in to the passenger seat speaking with the man behind the wheel.  A rifle wrapped in a blanket in the back.  In her clipped, no-nonsense manner, she mentions that her father shot himself.  And I realize by the end of this vignette that she is more wise and soulful than I’d realized, for she has just, quite intentionally, prevented this man from doing the same.

Though my feelings for Olive fluctuated from story to story, I cannot deny that she completely captivated me.  With every turn of the page, I wanted to know more about this seemingly simple yet complicated woman.  One minute she is stealing a loafer and bra from her new daughter-in-law while the next she is showing profound compassion toward a local anorexic girl.  At her son’s own wedding, she shows up in a tent of a dress she has sewn out of green gauzy muslin covered in a print of big red geraniums.  Everyone turns their nose up at it.  “I don’t give a hoot what you think!” Olive seems to scream in return.  God love her for that.

From an unexpected adventure in a hospital emergency room one evening to a blouse splotched with butterscotch syrup, Olive blusters her way through life with a fierce feistiness all her own.  Critical, judgmental, impatient, temperamental, she is Olive and nobody else.  Completely flawed like the best of us, she also reveals incredible glimmers of love and generosity.  A bundle of defenses, she also suffers shots of searing hurt.  Moments of profound loss, loneliness, or painful realization, such as when she crumples in angry incredulity over the fact that her adult son does not view her as the idyllic mother she has believed herself to be—yet continues to call and reach out to him regularly.  (And, kudos, by the way, to Christopher for finally finding the chutzpah to speak honestly to her.)

Bravo also to Olive, who may not drastically change by the end of the story but who certainly learns some lessons, takes up walking, eats her Dunkin’ Donuts doughnut holes each morning, and continues to speak her mind with “the passions and prejudices of a peasant” (whether to blaspheme a certain Republican cowboy, cocaine-addicted president or parents who take issue with their child being gay).

At my book club meeting the other night, our tiny, friendly circle discussed Olive for over an hour.  We also discussed our own mothers, relationships (failed and successful), friendships, children, fears, old aunts, alcoholic fathers, and the question, “Would you want Olive as a friend?”  Most of us winced at the idea.  And yet…none of us will walk away from her easily.  She dished out the most poignant, gritty, painful, human parts of life imaginable and left us reacting, thinking, feeling.  We mentioned re-reading the book in another year or two.  I, for one, can’t wait.

After the Storm

So the storm has passed, and Hurricane Irene has blown back to sea from whence she came.  I drove this morning to the nearby shore, anxious to reunite with my ocean, my sands, my boards.  Prohibited to enter the area while Irene twirled through town, I worried about the devastation I might see.  This, after all, has become sacred ground for me—my church pew, my meditation room, my workout space.

Thankfully Irene’s damage was minimal, swirls of sand piled up on the boardwalk, some flooding in a restaurant, lost power in a couple of the shops.  Not much had changed, and yet it felt different.  Electric.  Buzzing.  More alive.  Stronger than ever.

Joggers thumped past, bicyclists whirred by, others walked along like me.  Bustling boardwalk staff lugged their tables and goods back outside, hosed down their awnings, shoveled off the sand drifts.  Posters tattered at their edges hung on defiantly to advertise an upcoming beer festival, concert, and roller derby.  There were no heart-shaped pieces of sea glass or stones on the beach today, only broken shells and flecks of seaweed strewn through the drenched sand.  But the sunshine beat down, and the waves crashed gently against the rattled shore.

And then it dawned on me.  Something I already knew, deeply, viscerally, but had shoved aside….

We go on.  Life goes on.

We suffer, we ache, we wander and search aimlessly.  We play our guts out and fall short.  We discover a beautiful shell, and its sharp edge nicks our finger.  We stumble on an uneven board.  We aim the dart but miss the balloon.  We glare at the stars and wonder if we should curl up in a corner, give it all up, disappear.  We stare down a blank wall, overwhelmed by the empty space.  We choke on a buffet of what-if’s and what-now’s.   We love our hearts out and lose. 

The storm takes a chunk of summer, and us, along with her.  We feel tattered and torn, sad and lost, frayed around the edges.  And then, just like the ocean waves and boardwalk, we pick ourselves up, shake the sand off, and slowly put one flip flop in front of the other.  A cool breeze brushes our face and we suddenly feel comforted by the thought of pumpkins, football, roller derby, and sweaters.  And we go on.  Perhaps not too changed on the outside, but very different indeed.  Electric, buzzing, more alive.  Somehow stronger after the storm.

Anniversary

Forty-eight years ago today my parents married each other on a sweltering day out on Long Island.  1963.  The year Coca-Cola introduced Tab, the first James Bond film, Dr. No, played in US theaters, Martin Luther King, Jr., bellowed his dreams from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and two ordinary people promised to stick it out with each other through life’s ups and downs, thick and thin.  Pretty extraordinary, now that I think of it.  Of course much has happened in the near fifty years since my mother and father vowed “I do.”  Tab is now easier to find on cool, retro T-shirts than in grocery stores, 007 has shaken and stirred the screen through a montage of fashions and bombshells, and the march toward equal rights for everyone plods slowly on.

Today, though, I think about the things my parents have experienced in forty-eight years of marriage as the world has buzzed and hurtled through time around them:  Losses, gains.  Births, deaths.  New houses, old houses.  Lost jobs, new jobs.  Snow blizzards, blackouts, train rides, bus rides.  Shore vacations, business trips, postcards, souvenirs.  Home improvement projects (or, well, disasters).  Drive-in movies, jazz concerts, dinner parties, cocktail parties.  Christmas trees, flower gardens.  Briefcases, suitcases.  Oh yea, and then there’s my sister and me.  Not to mention the highway of things their marriage has weathered that I don’t have a clue about, the private ebbs and flows of a relationship known only to the two partners themselves. 

I’m no expert, mind you.  I have been blessed by deep, true love, though have walked solo through most of my years.  Perhaps there’s some greater reason for that, perhaps not.  I have both excelled and failed miserably in matters of love, and yet my heart beats on and open.  I’d like to think I will say, “I do” one day, but perhaps it’s not in my cards.  So what makes them so damn lucky, I suddenly ask myself, a bit bewildered as I ponder these two shrinking, elderly people I’ve known my whole life.

But perhaps that’s it right there.  It isn’t luck at all, is it.  It’s hard work, brutal, bone-wrenching, blood-sweat-and-tears work.  It’s commitment to something you may want to walk away from more times than not.  Sometimes it’s listening and acknowledging more than speaking.  It’s saying you accept each other’s differences and actually meaning it.  Often it’s laughing when you’d prefer to cry.  It’s holding the other, when you’d rather be holding a beer, a remote control, a book, or just about anything else at that moment.  It’s biting your tongue when you’d prefer to scream, “You’re a f***ing @#*(&!” but giving each other some slack when the harsh words do slip out.  It’s giving each other the freedom to go off into private space for a while but reveling in each other when you return.

I watch them closely when I visit.  My father’s face still burrowed in a newspaper or crossword puzzle.  My mom quietly brushing water colors onto a canvas at the kitchen counter, yelling out, “Jim!” when their separation in different rooms becomes too much for her. My father’s classic eye-roll and pursed lips, then “What?!”  I watch the world overwhelm them at times…miniscule cell phone buttons, computer error messages, customer service representatives answering their panicked calls from India or God-knows-where-else.

As their visitor, I no longer need to witness the rip-roaring fights of yesteryear; perhaps those have faded like the paint on their walls.  They bicker and pick, interrupt and pout.  But they also sneak each other little love pats in the kitchen as my mother continues to spread whatever he wants on a sandwich after all these years.  My father chews slowly, swallows carefully now, nodding occasionally as my mother chatters nonstop through lunch.  My mother pores holes into her magazine as my father repeats the same story over and over again until most people listening would scream.  They still take their annual September vacation to the Jersey Shore, though they could go any day of the week all year-long.  And at the end of each day, my father takes his bicycle cruiser for a spin around their gated community while my mother mixes their watered-down martinis.  They meet up on their cozy matching sofas to talk about the whomever’s and what-not’s of the day—never before toasting each other as they have from the start: “Je t’aime.”  Simply love, though nothing simple about it.

An Untimely Frost

They say the worst thing that can happen in life is the loss of a child.  It’s unnatural.  It’s horrific.  It’s impossible to explain or rationalize.  When a child dies, there is no asserting that “everything happens for a reason.”  In my own life, I learned this lesson early on with the death of my older brother, Jimmy.  Though he died when I was a mere baby myself, I have lived in the wreckage ever since.  My younger sister, Emily, and I continue to witness the destruction in my parents’ eyes, and there is no question that we are in so many ways products of this young boy’s death.

As a high school teacher, however, I was completely unprepared to lose a student, one of my “kids.”  Alas, little in life—especially death—allows for sufficient preparation.  A couple of years ago on a snowy Thanksgiving weekend, just as I was nestling in for a cozy getaway in the Poconos, I received a phone call that Petros, one of my former freshmen, had been killed in a car crash.  I had taught English to this boy with the dark, chocolate eyes long before his days of racing wildly through the night in a car with back seats and seatbelts replaced by pimped-out stereo equipment.  After hearing the news of his death, I cried long into the early morning as though I had lost a close friend or relative.

In the days and weeks after, I stumbled along in a daze, shredded, numb.  Slowly I began to think back, resonate in Petros a bit.  I recalled his loyalty to his family, his pride over his Greek heritage and his job at his family’s diner.  I remembered how he would flash his bright white smile at me in the hallways long after I had stopped teaching him short stories and Shakespeare.

As a teacher, I was struck by the harsh reality that I was not only mourning the child but also the cruel, premature finish to a million possibilities and what-if’s.  As many teachers do, I frequently gaze out upon the faces in my classroom and ponder their potential (and, of course, in some cases, fret over what seems to be the lack thereof).  I wonder to myself, What will goofy, charming Sean be when he grows up?   Will Maddy one day be less sad and awkward…perhaps blossom into a great poet or professor?  Will Courtney stick to her painting and move to SoHo one day?  A part of me envies their future: venturing to college and all of its adventures, traveling to England or Italy for their studies, moving into their first walk-up hovel in the Village, forging new and interesting relationships.  When a student dies, however, there is only one question to ask: Why?

Again today, death snuck rudely into my school, with no invitation and complete disregard for that which was planned.  My principal interrupted 1st period to announce over the loudspeaker that a little girl in our grade school had “gone home to God.”  Another angel taken.  I remember her well. She used to sit in the lunch period that I proctor, gnawing at her sandwich each day, chattering to the schoolmates around her.  Her distinct, scrunched-down puppy eyes melted my heart every time I saw them and are now emblazoned in my memory.

Upon hearing the news, my students and I solemnly closed Romeo and Juliet and awaited the bell.  A silent pall draped over my classroom, and suddenly the unexpected March snow falling outside seemed appropriate.  I thought of Capulet’s sorrow over Juliet: “Death lies on her like an untimely frost/Upon the sweetest flower of all the field.”  Sweet flower indeed—our little student’s name was Rose.

Later on in the day, a junior I taught during his freshman and sophomore years came to visit me during one of my classes.  On the outside, Danny is a tough guy.  He struts his stuff, likes to wear his hood up despite all uniform rules against it, has been to hell and back more than once.  Inside, Danny is all good, absolute solid gold.  He sat on the stool next to my podium.  “Finish reading the chapter on your own,” I instructed my class, turning to my visitor.  Sometimes life is more important than a lesson plan.  “You hear about Rosie, Ms. B?”  I told him that I had.  “She was the sweetest little girl,” he continued.  “When my mother used to work in the cafeteria, she’d tell Rosie her lunch was two dollars, Rosie would give her seventy-five cents and take off.”  I laughed, picturing that little pistol of a girl marching through her short life on her terms, taking no guff from anybody.  Danny turned more serious.  “I had to put my dog to sleep this week, Ms. B.”  My heart silently shattered.  “I’ve been crying ever since it happened.”  My attempts to comfort him felt feeble, weak.  What to do with this much grief?  “I’ll never get another dog as long as I live, Ms. B.”  Pause.  “Well, at least not until I’m thirty.”  Then he gave me one of those classic Danny smiles and was on his way down the hall back to whatever class he had ditched.

And so we march on.  The next bell rings.  A little boy gets a puppy.  Schoolgirls resume their chatter.  A cafeteria fills up again with loud, voracious kids.   A teacher plans her lessons for tomorrow.   We watch the weather forecast hoping for sun.   And as the snow slowly turns to rain, we pray for the new flowers of spring.

And so begins my 41st year…

One year ago, I crawled toward my fortieth year with apprehension, uncertainty.  I lost sleep (more than usual), agonized over whether I had yet accomplished enough in my life, worried that my time was running out.  Though wiser friends advised me, I did not fully comprehend that I feared a mere number—nothing more.  As The Event passed, I reflected, reminisced, and suddenly realized that nothing had changed.  Not a thing.  I was still me.

Turning forty became exciting, a milestone, a badge of honor.  For the first time in my life, I appreciated looking a bit younger than my age and got a kick out of people’s reactions when I told them I had just turned the big 4-0.  I pulled out old photo albums, mixed tapes, postcards and letters, drinking in my past.  I even blogged about it, vowing that my fortieth would be a brilliant year. 

And brilliant it was, as the greatest gift I received was me.  I reclaimed myself.  Returned to Beth.  I opened my heart to new friendships and rekindled some of the old.  I bid farewell to an eight-year relationship but not the beautiful person with whom I had shared it.  I began writing again.  I rediscovered the pure thrill of live music, something I had shelved for quite some time.  I reconfirmed that pleasure is found in the simple things of life (dinner with a friend, an old favorite song, a newly discovered band, a compliment, a kiss, a road trip).  I downsized to a tiny walk-up apartment but filled it with only my favorite things.  And I moved near the ocean, where I have spent hours and days since, walking along the water’s edge, sitting on the beach, staring at the horizon, thinking, wondering, wishing, praying thanks for such a dream come true. 

As I greeted my 41st birthday, I realized with a vengeance how truly thankful I am.  My students showered me with heartfelt birthday wishes, hugs, smiles, and sweets, reminding me that I have been called to a vocation greater than myself—or all of the corporate jobs and money the world has to offer.  At the end of the school day, as I walked awkwardly toward my car with handfuls of construction paper cards, loose-leaf letters, and wrinkly little Ziploc bags full of misshapen chocolate chip cookies, a colleague I have secretly penned “Sad Sack” mentioned that she had heard it was my birthday.  As I told her of my students’ outpouring of love, she replied in true mope fashion, “Oh, Beth, they were just happy to get out of doing work.”  Hmm…perhaps.  A younger me would have allowed Sad Sack to pierce my beautiful bubble.  This 41-year-old, however, quickly decided to ride the high, give thanks for her students’ remarkably turbulent, fragile, explosive, awesome adolescent selves, and re-read their lovely letters and cards over and over again.      

I recognized the same transformation within me a few weeks ago, when a burgeoning friendship suddenly imploded, both parties equally involved in its quick demise.  My younger self would have plummeted into a pool of insecure funk.  The 41-year-old me, however, instinctually stepped back, breathed, and reflected.  I realized my specific mistakes and apologized to her out of true, deep remorse.  I refrained from confronting her with the specific ways in which she had contributed to the mess and gathered what lessons I could.  And, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I swallowed my pride and wrote her a heartfelt card, thanking her for the amazing ways in which she had touched my life in such a brief amount of time.  I left the door open for continued laughter and friendship, but she slammed it shut for reasons that undoubtedly make sense to her.  And that is fine.  At 41, I finally recognize that my goodness, my value, my worthy friendship are not defined by another.

And so it is that I continue to be grateful for my inner voice—that which has always guided me but continues to increase in volume with each birthday.  The voice that tells me to swallow my pride, apologize, forgive the other and myself, learn the lessons, move onward.  The voice that guides me toward some people and away from others.  The voice that whispers of the simple, profound beauties all around me: the first blustery December snowflakes, a neighbor’s kind gesture, loving words from a friend, a strand of blue Christmas lights, my sister’s love, a piece of sea glass or heart-shaped stone.  The voice that reminds me of all I have been through, all I’ve survived, and the gifts of strength and wisdom borne of those trials.

As I ponder the challenges I have faced, my thoughts drift to Elizabeth Edwards, who died yesterday at the age of 61.  I always admired the woman, who epitomized pure strength and grace.  A tough, beautiful woman who survived the death of her son, a cheating husband, crumbled marriage and who sure as hell gave breast cancer a run for its money.  And so, yet again, I am reminded of the fragility of life, the hope for something beyond this world, and the blessing of good health. 

Aside from an accelerated heart rate, a rather serious bout of skin cancer last summer, a broken nose this past spring, and an occasional case of bronchitis, I have been more than blessed.  I celebrated my first mammogram a few months ago, even receiving a long-stemmed pink rose upon my departure from the clinic.  A week later I received a letter confirming that all is well.  Standing in my kitchen, letter and envelope in hand, I exhaled loudly, then felt the slow trickle of tears down my face.  I trembled from the magnitude of what could have been, the alternate scenario some other woman might be facing at that very moment, and for the overwhelming sense of gratitude pounding within me.

As Edwards declared in her last statement released to the public, “The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered….But I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious.”   How beautiful.  How true.

And so, if 40 was about rediscovering myself and getting back on my path, 41 is going to be about living each day consciously, fully awake, with hope, simplicity, and gratitude.  Life is good, love is in the air, and my heart is open and brimming with blue Christmas lights, snowflakes, and 80s songs.  I plan to grab on to my 41st year with an iron grip, squeezing every ounce of precious life from it as I go.

On Turning 40

Reposted from January 2010

 

I’ve just turned 40.  Oy.  Yikes.  Yowza. 

This time last year, I had crawled into a first-rate funk over it, stewing over the approach of this dreaded number.   Suddenly, it seemed to me, each death announced on the news (whether murder, suicide, or some dreaded disease) was a 40-something.  A life insurance commercial getting more air play than any other I could remember taunted me with the question, “Are you forty or above?”  Wrinkle cream and hair dye commercials seemed to leap with joy from my digital screen.  My mind raced, my heart slumped.  I haven’t accomplished anything, I thought in terror.  Should I get a tattoo?   Pierce something?  Chop my hair off?  Grow it to my knees?  Quit my job and drive across country, join a mission, migrate to Morocco, an island, the desert?  Am I really at the halfway mark of my life, or do I have even less time than that?  

Then I stopped.  Breathed.  Reflected.  And as I mused on this milestone unfolding before me, opened my eyes a bit more, watched as dear friends and celebrities alike hit the big one, I realized something.  40 is exciting.  40 marks a brand new chapter.  40 is cool.  Here are the other revelations that came to me:

1.  It beats the alternative.  Period.  I have my life.  I have my health.  I have been blessed in a million and one ways, and I am mindful and grateful.

2.  I have accomplished.  While my life has led me down a variety of different paths, often surprising ones, I have owned every step.  My journey and accomplishments are mine. 

3. It’s the quality of friendships and connections that matters–not the quantity.  Make the connections you do have count.  And don’t neglect those who live at a distance (sometimes those are the most meaningful).  Oh sure, some people at this age are still concerned with how many friends they have and from which circles those friends derive, but they just haven’t begun to figure things out.  Those people are the same ones who haven’t yet discovered that it’s okay to stay home if you want to.

4. Facebook is a beautiful thing.  In fact, those of us in this particular age bracket may just cherish it more than the millions of younger subscribers do (bright, chipper youth, who, for the most part, still have the bulk of their friends in near proximity and who would still rather be out amongst the crowds than indoors in domestic comfort).  FB has reunited us, rejuvenated old interests, sparked memories, buried rusty hatchets, fostered new friendships, made it okay for us to take a load off and surf.  Evidence:  1.) New Year’s Eve postings from a  multitude of 40-something friends who were reveling in the fact that they were nestled safely and warmly inside.  Heartfelt midnight postings spreading love and good tidings.  AND 2.) Collective humorous postings the morning after, commenting on the pleasure of rising from bed to paint a wall, play with a daughter, read a book, or take a brisk walk.  Alert, rested, sober.

5. 1969 was a damn cool year in which to be born.  Woodstock.  The first man on the moon.  The start of the NFL.  The Beatles’ Abbey Road.  The birth of Jim Henson’s Sesame Street.   Need I say more?

6. I grew up in the 80s.  You know what that means? 

I enjoyed 80s music in the 80sThe first time around.  The real deal.

I made mixed tapes (yes, on actual cassette tapes) and exchanged them with the closest of friends.  I haven’t had a cassette player in years, but all of my mixed tapes (none more cherished than Dave’s) are still safely tucked away.

I experienced the unrivaled ecstasy of flipping through bins of vinyl records, making my purchases, slowly peeling them out of their plastic wrap, and listening for hours on end (pops of static and lyric sheets included).  The Smiths. Depeche Mode. The Cure. Cocteau Twins. Thompson Twins. U2.  Ah…absolutely nothing like it. 

I saw The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Pretty in Pink in the theater.  Essential, defining films.  Thankfully, my high school students still recognize some of the classic lines when I unabashedly drop them during class.  Well, don’t I have some sort of responsibility to keep those treasures alive?  Which films since the 80s have youth clung to?  Mean GirlsScary Movie?  Elf?  Good god.

I wore plaid shirts back then, so I don’t have to wear them again, now that they’ve decided to come back en vogue.   I’ve done my time with other fashion fads too.  (Much thanks to Lisa Bonet during The Cosby Show years.)  Now I’m old enough to wear what I want when I want and not worry about style.  I’ve got my own style.  It may jump around from classic to conservative to hippy to all-black to preppy to pure comfort, but it’s mine.  And you know what else?  I still wear my peace sign T-shirts, concert T-shirts, and Converse Chucks when I feel like it.  Yes, even though I’m 40.  

7. I’ve realized there is no perfect job.  But, after trying on a couple of careers for size, I also realize that I am meant to be an English teacher.  It fits.  It makes sense. It defines part of who I am, and I love it.  Of course, I don’t love getting up at 5:30 every morning, the long hours of work required beyond the actual school day, or the politics and gossip, but what job comes without these things?   And, in the meantime, I’ve learned to laugh at a lot of the workplace shenanigans that would have once prompted tearful frustration.  I earn pennies for what I do, but I am happy and grateful.  Enough said. 

8. Nobody (or body) is perfect.  I never thought I’d come to terms with this one.  Here I am, 40, and I have clarity on the things that make me great and not-so-great.  I enjoy the things I love about myself and work on the things that I can improve.  I have my health.  I have many things for which to be grateful.   I take the sprouting gray hairs, holiday bloat, flushed Irish mug, stiff back, and achy knees in stride.

9.  Back to pop culture for a minute?   I grew up with The Brady Bunch, The Love Boat, Knight Rider, Dallas, Falcon Crest, Hart to Hart, Charlie’s Angels, The Incredible Hulk (the real Bill Bixby one), The Bionic Woman, Rankin-Bass claymation Christmas specials, and The Gong Show.  I bought Michael Jackson’s Thriller on cassette tape (yes, that again) when it was first released.  I watched the Live Aid concert play out on television.  I watched Mtv when it actually showed videos.  God, those were the days.  (It’s finally my turn to use that awful cliché.)

10. I know who I am.  I know what I want and what I don’t want.  The difference is, I understand now that I don’t have all of my answers yet, and that’s okay.  I’m continuing to explore and figure things out as I go, still owning my path, my journey.  And I still have dreams.  Never let go of dreams.

I went for an eye exam on Monday.  As the doctor eyed my chart, he said, ever so gently, “I see you’ve just turned the magic number.”   “Yes,” I said, rolling my eyes with a smile.  “Well,” he continued, “I’ll be kind and refrain from using the ‘B’ word this time.  Next time, however…”  Puzzled, I asked him what he meant by the “B” word.  “Bifocals,” he grinned.  And we both broke into warm, hearty laughter.  This is going to be a good year, I thought.  No, as my good friend Claire would say, Brilliant.  My 40th is going to be a brilliant year.