Approaching 40

It’s there, peeking out from behind the corners of my consciousness, shimmering silver from beneath the brown, etching a bit deeper into the smile lines. On the one brain (the fear-based one), I dread it and think, “Oh, boy, here we go with this interminable passage of time thing. Twenty-two years since I graduated high school? Really?” And on the other brain (the joy-based one), I think, “Woooppeee! Hold on for the ride!”

The truth is that I feel pretty excited about turning 40. It’s strange for me to write that, much less feel it, because I’ve typically been someone that hasn’t relished the fact that time inexorably marches forward and there’s not a thing we can do about it. I’ve struggled with the fact that it slips through our fingers with each passing moment, that my kids just keep getting bigger and older and further away from the purity and innocence of babyhood, and that we will all, one day, die. I don’t like that part of life (does anyone?), but for some reason it hasn’t been freaking me out lately.

As with all transitions, as I approach 40 I can feel myself shedding parts of my personality that are no longer serving me. It’s like I’m stepping further into my true self, my wisdom as a woman, and my calling in life. I feel stronger and calmer than I’ve ever felt, like I’m sitting right in the center of myself. I remember when Oprah turned 50 she talked about how, with each passing decade, she feels more empowered and less concerned with what others think. She said something along the lines of, “The disease to please that afflicts so many women lessens with age.”

I couldn’t quite relate at the time, but I can now. For example, my husband and I recently had a conversation about how most people have walls up. I mulled that phrase over in my mind late into the night, and by morning I could feel a palpable shift inside me. The part of me that tries to connect with people that aren’t open to connecting – whether they’re neighbors, acquaintances, or grocery store clerks – fell away. I realized with total certainty that it’s not me. If someone isn’t open to connecting when I approach them with a genuine smile and real interest, it’s not because I’ve said something offensive or done anything wrong, it’s that most people have walls up. If someone has an issue with me, they can either tell me about it or not, but it’s not my problem and I’m no longer willing to spend time worrying about it. So, just like that, I stepped more fully into myself and stopped caring about what others think, just like Oprah said.

With this inner shift and an awareness of stepping further into my power on several fronts, I’m beginning to believe that, just as John Robbins wrote about in Healthy at 100, it’s possible to look forward to aging. After all, when I look at the trajectory of my life, everything has become more joyful and alive with each passing decade, so why wouldn’t that continue? I may have a fleeting moment of missing my flawless, pre-baby, 20-something skin and body, but you couldn’t pay me all the money in the world to go back to that decade where I was dragged by the hair through the underworld of panic, anxiety, and pure terror!

Alongside the excitement, a parade of memories travel like logs down the river of my mind. I’m lying down with my sons at bedtime in the womb-like blue light of their room and my mother’s 40th birthday flashes in my mind.

I’m eight, and my father has planned a surprise party for my mother. Nobody tells me because they don’t trust me to keep the secret, and when we arrive at their best friends’ house and walk into the backyard to find hundreds of people cheering “surprise”, I’m still wearing my Brownies uniform. I’m mortified, as any eight year old girl would be: I wanted to look pretty for the party. And I’m hurt that my dad didn’t trust me with the secret. I sit down on a cement stoop in the corner of the yard. My grandma sits down next to me. She does her best to offer comfort, but says something along the lines of, “Don’t be so sensitive, Sheryl. It’s no big deal.” I cry.

I miss my grandma. God, I miss her. She wasn’t perfect, but she was mine and she loved me like I was the sun in her solar system. I cry now, lying between my sweet boys. Another layer of grief. Another layer of memory. Another clearing. Another loss remembered as I raft toward a new stage.

I ponder my mother at 40. I ponder the wild and slippery passage of time that has led me to the same age as my mother was in my memory. And now she’s 72. And my grandmother is gone. It’s the most natural progression of a life fully lived and yet it fills me with grief. And it fills me with gratitude. I’m so blessed to be living this life. I’m so blessed to be healthy with two healthy sons. I’m so blessed to be following in my mother’s footsteps. Thank you.

In my 20s, my illusions and fantasies of perfection were shattered and by the end of that decade I had birthed myself as an adult. In my 30s, I birthed myself as a mother and settled into the center of my calling as a counselor and writer. And what will my 40s bring? I look forward to it, knowing without a shadow of a doubt that I will continue to grow and expand through each decade of transition, letting go of what no longer serves me and living my life directly connected to the golden essence of myself with hair of silver stars.

4 comments to Approaching 40

  • Sarah

    Sheryl, this is beautiful. I’ve met so many people who don’t even want to reveal their age, and they’re only 27! As painful as it’s been, I like getting older and look forward to sinking into who I am, both personally and professionally, rather than keeping up the illusions and pretending. I could really feel the warmth coming through with this post and your genuineness in your words. 🙂

  • Thank you, Sarah. I see it as a sad consequence of cultural fear of aging that people don’t like to share their age, even if their 20s! Hopefully, that’s starting to change.

  • Wow Sweetie, this made me cry.

  • Mom, it must be strange when your daughter turns 40! I can’t even imagine…