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.