Birthdays are hard, my expectations haywire at the oddest moments. While I crave the spotlight, I also shy away, preferring to plan last minute gatherings over a big party. I am ever grateful on June 6 when the pressure passes and I can resume normal routines, settling into my new number.
Being a June baby is nice. This month fits me. Grateful to see the crazy busy of May gone, while ill-prepared for the heat of July, where sleep is a near rarity when divorced from the whir of air conditioners. June offers the hope of planted seeds and blooming color, the absolute wonder of an afternoon thunderstorm, trees full and lawns green, nights remain cool – the evening breezes wafting through the open windows.
At my birthday dinner, my mom asked what I’ve learned after forty-four years.
Here is my attempt to answer her question:
Forty-four offers authority. The grand experiments of parenting and marriage are revealing their cracks and their fruits. Grace and gratitude have been wrung from both the best and worst of times. The delicious byproduct, wisdom, is carried around in my pocket as a secret delight. I am thrilled when given an opportunity to dispense a hard-learned nugget. Joy coming from choosing the struggle and tunneling through to the other side with deeper understanding and respect.
Forty-four offers perspective. Life’s cycles and seasons are coming around again. The untested certainty of the 20s and 30s replaced with mercy and humility. I am becoming more myself, while sticking to my own lane, finding my beauty and pleasure in what I was created and designed to do, as a woman, a mother, a wife and friend.
Forty-four yells at me to stop trying to be happy. This aging body aches. Muscles and bone, but also spirit and soul. I cannot fix the world. I cannot heal the pain. I can, however, choose discomfort. I can honor the struggle of the people around me, in my world and in the greater world. I can choose to see and strive for justice by recognizing my privilege. The weight of the world dwells in me and I have work to do. Balancing the blessing with the ache is my joy, my painful joy. I want to lay in my soft bed and consider the refugee with no place to call home. I want to take a warm shower and remember my homeless neighbor. I want to fill my belly and honor the poverty-stricken children in my own country. My ache holds my greatest joy and greatest confusion. I try to shake the throb, but to no avail. As Martin Luther King, Jr stated: Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Our work is to fight injustice beginning with our comfort. Our work is to carry human dignity through equality into our worlds. So I try to bear the burden with humility and imperfection and fear. I fail, I look stupid, I succeed some of the time. Meanwhile, I am urged and I crawl. My happiness is not important. I would rather live with my eyes wide open.
Forty-four tells me I need fewer friends but deeper friendships. My friends pour into me and I into them, sometimes from excess and often from dregs. I bear burdens and others bear mine. My work is not to save but to carry the mutual expectation that we are there for one another. I don’t get to be the savior, nor do I get to be the victim.
Forty-four has given me permission. Yes is scarce and no is abundant. The physical and emotional outputs as wife, mother, friend, writer are great. Opportunities, no matter how noble, are competition for my priorities. Naps are a rule. Meditative prayer, journaling and super-strong coffee are my mornings. Regular dates with Eric keep our home life humming along with health and precision, fending off the threat of careless apathy and creeping disrespect.
Forty-four has shown me the gravity and potential fragility of marriage and family. Revealing the need for consistent stoking of the fires of respect through conversation, the crafting of friendship, the recognition of mutuality. The constant work of seeking to understand and giving the benefit of the doubt is essential, while recognizing and respecting differences.
Forty-four has set my feet on the path of love. Loving God, loving myself, loving others requires abundant and swift grace, doing the meticulous work of forgiveness, forging through the darkness of chosen suffering to learn the art of mercy. Empathy and compassion spring from choosing to see. Our light shines when we learn to bear with fortitude the burdens of another and when we live into our own beloved-ness, owning the fundamental truth that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Nothing can loosen God’s grip on us. We are secure, safe, held.
Forty-four has made its mark on my body. The lines around my eyes now meet in a continuous arc to my mouth. Permanent creases line my forehead, a furrow etched along my brow line. Gray hairs increase at exponential rates and Achilles tendons cry out after periods of inactivity. My hands have become unfamiliar, and my skin more spotty than not. I forget things. I’m tired. Yet, I am grateful.
The authority and beauty of aging, the lines and grays and spots are honorable and hard won. My heart is fuller, more resilient than ever.
The best word to describe my first 44 years – good.
Let’s toast to another 44.