I don't know how it happened, but today is my birthday. (I mean, I do know how it happened - birds and bees and all - I just can't figure out where the heck January went. If anyone finds it, could you send it my way? I'd meant to use some of those days to get things done...) It's one of those birthdays that people call a "big" birthday, and big birthdays, like New Year's Day, somehow seem to call for taking stock.
In many ways, it's a funny sort of birthday, because I keep getting questions which are all variants of "Aren't you bummed/freaked out/sad to be getting this old?" I feel like I'm disappointing people, because I'm really not feeling any of those things. (I will, however, freely own up right now that the fact that Older Daughter is starting high school next year is sort of freaking me out, but that's because she's getting so old, not because I am.)(It just occurred to me to ask: Mom, does this mean that you're finding my big birthday more thought-provoking than your last big birthday?). So I've been trying to figure out why I'm not feeling those things (I'm all about analyzing data). It seems like as good a way as any to step back and assess. There is, of course, no single reason, but there are a lot of things that add up to me feeling, far from upset, actually pretty damn good.
My usual response to the variants of the EEEK comment, which seems flip but isn't, is to say, "it's better than the alternative". But I'll tell you, I mean it with all my heart. I sat at two deathbeds this year, and while both women had lived full lives and were ready to let go, I was utterly aware in both cases of all the people I know and know of who were not, and who would have given anything for more time with the people they love. I have friends who have faced and are facing life-threatening diagnoses, and I am grateful beyond belief that I am not. And I am fully aware that the only reason why I am not is the luck of the draw. It could be me, and it might be me, so I appreciate that it is not.
I think it also helps that almost every single one of my close friends has already hit this milestone (and the rest are coming up right behind me in the next few months). Some of them are more than a decade ahead of me, in fact (which means I'm already not dreading the next big birthday - thanks, guys!). I have trailblazers, and they are blazing some pretty impressive trails. What is there to be afraid of, or regretful of, when I can see just how great it is on the other side of this one day? (In fact, the woman in the office next to me just came in to confide that she found this birthday liberating. I'm with her all the way.)
In fact, those friends, the trailblazers and cheerleaders in my life, are a huge part of why this birthday is a good day. I am lucky to have friends (including so many of you whom I met right here on the blog - you know who you are) of rare ability, thoughtfulness, and skill, and I find myself inspired by all of the amazing things that they do - I have tried so many things, and become better at so many things, and thought carefully about so many things, because of that inspiration. I feel like I should be taking all my friends out to a great big birthday dinner and toasting every one of them and saying, thank you!
When I look back at the last couple of big birthdays and assess where I was then and where I am now, I can honestly say that I am happier now than I have ever been in my life. I am healthier, both physically and (much more importantly) emotionally. My relationships are better. I am more confident in myself. I have walked through some pretty big fires and I find that, far from lamenting my scars, they seem to me to be badges of courage. I have a lot more faith in myself now. I've got a lot of growing left to do, of course, and I know (past performance in this case being a perfect indicator of future returns) that life isn't going to stop throwing curveballs. I think what I'm saying is that I trust myself to be able to deal - not without some kicking and screaming here and there, but a bit more gracefully each year. That is the gift of time.
If I had to describe, in two words or less, how I feel about the next year and the years after, I think they would be:
And I can live with that.