Thursday, December 31, 2015

Farewell to the last forty

Twenty-two years ago, a grizzled, Jewish WWII veteran wearing a terrycloth robe, beret, and bed slippers smoked cigarettes with me on the balcony of the Northridge VA Hospital in Los Angeles. He spoke to me in a rich Brooklyn accent and said, "Life is a biblical journey. All you need is a destination and forty years to get there."

I was forty for two years.

In retrospect I realize that the phenomenon, completely my own doing, was an awkward mistake. But it did happen. I went straight from age thirty-eight to telling everyone that I was forty, because as far as I was concerned thirty-nine was a dreadful age to be. I didn't relish the idea of a year spent worrying about turning the big Four-Oh. In 2014, if someone asked, I told them I was forty. And then, on the last day of that year, I in fact turned forty. Rather than continuing to skip my actual age for the next annum I spent 2015 telling the truth.

My kids forgot. My husband forgot. And I missed out on thirty-nine, which any more doesn't seem like such a rough age. 

I took a final forty-year-old selfie yesterday afternoon that some might believe encapsulates arrival after years of wilderness wandering. My husband tells me that rather than failing to achieve or to reach a clearly defined destination, my life is littered with evidence of my priorities and sizable triumphs along the way. 

Today I am finally forty-one.

A few days ago, I took my oldest son on a midnight drive out to Utah Lake. We talked about choosing a path in life, orienting on becoming. I told him if he comes to a place where he decides there is need to change goals, rerouting his course and throwing himself headlong into the work of progress is completely acceptable. My son used to ask me, sometimes with frustration what I "did", probably because I've decided on a dozen course changes since his birth. For a long time I sense he was ashamed that I wasn't like other moms. I didn't exactly stay home, and I didn't exactly work full-time. My jobs and projects have shifted over the last twenty years around my chosen focus—childrearing—which is completely obvious to me now even if it wasn't while I was midcourse. And perhaps, during that time, it seemed to my son that I did nothing. But as he enters adulthood and we look back together, the evaluation is rich with inclusions and activities that have shaped my kids as much as they have me. Those years are an accumulation of music, theatre and visual arts, dance, poetry, philosophy, hiking, photography, volunteering, teaching and mentoring, editing, entertaining, spirituality, friendships, and continued growth and learning in every imaginable discipline. 

No, my life is not without mistakes. Many of them. But even those can be mined for wisdom and insight. Openly accepting responsibility for my faults has taught my kids to feel safe being human; that there is no shame in admitting blunders. Mistakes can help refine the angles in our course correction, and give shape to character. If anything, (you read it here) I am a character. I am as proud of my bruises as I am the muscle I've built. And so,  I encouraged my son to embrace the bravery necessary to begin becoming. In doing so I acknowledge for the first time that in these past forty years—plus one—that I've afforded myself the opportunity to get messy trying everything I wanted to put my hands to.

And it's not as though I've come to the conclusion of this life experiment just because the texture of all this becoming is finally producing a patterned cloth. There are at least a dozen more course changes to come. I'm not so young anymore not to recognize that this animal is set in her ways. Let's check in again and take stock in another thirty-nine. We'll call that our final destination.

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