I’m not aging gracefully. I don’t even know what that means especially since I’ve never been described as graceful at any age. It’s not that I’m messing up this aging thing or even fighting it so hard, it’s that I don’t think of aging in those terms anymore. I no longer see aging as an enemy to wrestle or something that needs to be done a certain way, like gracefully. I’ve shrunk its importance down to pocket-size.
And because of this, my birthday last Friday – my forty-fifth – went off without a neurotic hitch, unlike a few recent ones in the past. I’m different this birthday. I feel as if I float above my age now, like I untethered myself from it and gave it less weight. My age and I have made peace and I’m able to ride the line of maturity and youth, pulling from each side as I like. It’s rather astonishing.
My mind doesn’t grind on youth missed, or impending death. I am hardly philosophical about the actual number, and what I’ve learned recently has not been epiphanic, but more a slow reveal. Not to undermine the diligency with which I work to live a thoughtful life, but the gifts of aging have appeared like a gradual, inevitable dawning like grass growing or the moon rising. Those things are going to happen, but I imagine not everyone notices.
Here are some things I now know after forty-five years of living:
- I am not afraid. I am not afraid to fail. Or succeed. I’ve done both and once you break the ice on either, it frees up an inhibition to try. Nothing squashes fear faster than meeting it head on. A mature fearlessness is not the same as recklessness. It’s being your true self without fear, doing what you truly want to do and having the stability and strength of character to deal with opposition or praise, either way. Not being afraid evokes an equilibrium I did not experience when I was younger.
- I love as hard as I can. Period. I can’t tell you enough how good this feels – to all-out love the people and things that I keep in my life. It’s infectious, too. They’ll love you hard right back.
- I listen to my own parenting. Being a good parent might be the only thing at which I’m great. I don’t even know why I’m good at it. It’s like I’m a medium for other past, great parents who are working through me. And as my girls get older, they need more big-life guidance as opposed to the gems they needed when they were little like “don’t put your feet in your mouth.” So, when I’m giving them big-life talks and I’m hearing the words flow out of my mouth in a savant kind of way, I’m also thinking, “Holy crap! That’s some good advice that I should probably be following.” Note to self: You can do anything. Dream big. Go for it. Love big. Say what you mean. Help out.
- The stress never amounted to anything. When I lost my job a couple months ago, oddly the stress stopped. During the twenty years I was in that industry, I fell prey to the notion that you are not doing well unless your stress level is like a noose tightly cinched at your neck. I used stress as martyrdom to prove to others that I was a success. And all of that is simply not true. The martyrdom was only a façade covering up the fact I might not have known what was meaningful yet. I don’t live in regret because those twenty years led me to here, but going forward I understand that stress only sucks the quality from life and impedes the search for real meaning.
- I don’t believe in big milestones anymore. In our society, age is closely connected with generic milestones. By thirty we should have 1-2-3, by forty we should have x-y-z. And that’s not to say we shouldn’t have goals, but the 1-2-3 and the x-y-z often become morphed with what everyone else might think we need by those ages. I have goals, certainly, and though I keep the big picture in mind, I find that when I zoom in and find joy in the details and the everyday application of what I’m working toward, the big picture takes care of itself. Living to only check things off a list distracts us from the actual living part.
- I reject aging gracefully. Should a forty-five year old woman go by the name of Dizzle? Should a forty-five year old eat many pieces of cinnamon-sugar toast on her birthday because that’s what her grandma would’ve made her even though she died thirty years ago and part of me is still fifteen, waiting for her to make me cinnamon-sugar toast? My forty-fifth birthday party turned into a rager as photo evidence shows, and what of it? Who knows, but I reject whatever others feel I should be doing at forty-five. When I’m sixty-five and I’m wearing a bikini to the grocery store I probably won’t care what you say or think then either.
- Let it go.This might be the best advice Captain Obvious ever gave. But Lord, we can hold on to some stuff, can’t we? We pretend we don’t and yet at every bend of our minds, hiding, there is something we have a vice-grip on. Letting go of the guilt of no longer having a big, important job has been more difficult than I thought it would be. Maybe I’ll forget I was big and important at one time if I don’t feel guilty. Time might be the only solvent that can loosen up this and other life-stalling feelings: anger, pain, resentment. I know it’s hard. I know because if we let go of the pain we feel it might invalidate some real and painful things that happened to us. I get that, and all I can say is, don’t stop actively trying to let it go. Note to self: Relief and more wellbeing await.
- Make it all matter. An outsider looking at my life might think that I don’t have much. Apartment living, old car, no “real” job. But really, my life is perfection and that’s because I make what I do matter. My relationships, my parenting, my training, my writing. I give freely with my time and resources because lending a hand matters to me. I encourage anyone who crosses my path because the small words can matter most. I have a ton of fun living my life because holy cow, having fun matters. The quality of my life is directly proportional to the thoughtfulness that I put into it.
Aging is not nothing. But to some degree I’ve taken away its power. I don’t think about aging properly, I only think to live. Live! And by living I am that much more in tune with the gifts that my age has to offer.