With just about 40 days to my 40th birthday (and everyone asking me what I am going to do to celebrate the BIG ONE), I am thinking about time…
I have a crystalline memory from high school that taunts me now.
My dad had just picked me up from my job at Rich’s department store in Columbia, South Carolina. I was fifteen. As we made our way past the Columbia Mall movie theater, he turned on the radio. NPR drowned out the sound of traffic as the turbo-engine of the red Mitsubishi Cordia picked up speed.
Bored, I stared out my window and thought, “You are officially old when you listen to public radio and care about your yard.”
By twenty-three, I was a donor to public radio. In my early thirties, I started caring about the yard.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the passage of the years in ways that I never did. Maybe it is because my parents’ now need my care or maybe it is because I am a parent and the adage that the days are long but the years are short has never seemed more true. Maybe it’s because I have finally realized that I have less days left than yesterday. Likely, it is a bit of all of that.
When I first realized the speed at which it feels time is slipping away, panic licked at my stomach. I wasn’t worried about my ever increasing number of grey hairs or my more defined laugh and worry lines. When I considered what the panic was really about, I found it was less about the appearance of age and more about the passage of time. Am I doing what I want with my days? Does my life have meaning in a way that brings me joy? What needs to change?
That teenage girl riding in her dad’s car might have been naïve enough to think that life stops being fun after the most significant, self-interested milestones have been crossed. But what I have learned is that there are so many more milestones than I could have imagined back then and that there is meaning in more than just that first kiss or that acceptance letter to the college of one’s dreams. There’s joy in the 1,000th kiss and in seeing a seed you plant come to fruition and meaning in helping your parents navigate their retirement needs and in the tears that flow while you listen to a Story Corps feature on that damn public radio you once bemoaned.
There is also joy in the quiet realization that with adulthood comes the ability to always take stock and then to practice what I have learned: that I should say no to responsibilities that aren’t a fit and yes to experiences that are, even if they are outside the box of how I would have defined myself back then. There is meaning in realizing I can control how much my work responsibilities bleed into my family and personal time and satisfaction in seeing every smile I’ve beamed etched on my face. And, ultimately and perhaps most importantly, that it is my responsibility to be kind to myself, to treat myself well, to nudge myself forward with gentle encouragement and not debilitating berating.
I may have started listening to public radio and gardening earlier than my teenage self ever expected, but what age has given me is an appreciation for the way lived experience yields to wisdom and how that wisdom informs my choices. What I relish most about my age, let’s be honest, is the ability to make those choices, to make life happen, to find meaning where I choose to go. Turning forty doesn’t scare me in the way that I might have imagined at 15- that life wouldn’t be fun anymore, that I would no longer be of use. But it does give me incredible perspective. The days are yielding. Am I doing what I am meant and wish to do, in the way and measure I am meant and wish to do them? Do I dare live most like I am meant to, most all of the time? Or maybe the more critical question is do I dare not?