My baby sister turns 40 today. When she was born, I was already a messed-up teenager, and at the time, I couldn’t conceive of either of us turning even 20 yet alone all the decades that would pile up our ages. But there’s something about turning 40 in our world that brings out the dread, black balloons and gag gifts, not to mention that strange sinking feeling and we’re truly not getting any younger.
Being well past 40, and actually immersing myself big-time in the 50s now, what I’ve realized is how much better life gets (or can get) as the years sand off our old edges, evaporate some of our old anxieties, and lower the volume of all internalized voices that harp at us about how to live. And this isn’t just my experience: four times, I’ve been in giant women’s circles at bioregional congresses, in which 60-150 women arranged themselves by age in a spiral, starting with the oldest on the outer edge and youngest in the center. Every time, in each circle, I saw the same pattern as we went around, each speaking about what it meant to be a woman at this age, and starting with the oldest to the youngest:
- The oldest women, in their 70s, 80s or 90s, despite health issues and a greater sense of mortality, talked about how much freer they felt to be who they truly were, and how happy they were in their own skin. If they couldn’t sleep, they read or painted or played computer games.
- The women in their 60s glowed about how they were doing what they most wanted in their lives. They tried everything to quell insomnia and were learning to live with it.
- The women in their 50s were cultivating greater freedom, authenticity and spaciousness. But they could also use some magic potion to help them sleep better. And everyone was piloting some new way of eating to improve her health.
- The women in their 40s were coming out from years of too-much-ness or at least seeing how too-much-ness (work, family, community and other obligations) was truly too much and needed to be weeded back.
- The women in their 30s were tired, often in the middle of the job or kid or both extreme life sports. They were navigating marriage or relationship or singleness, and seriously needed a massage, a shot of vodka and some dark chocolate.
- The women in their 20s were overwhelmed by intensity, their own and everyone else’s, and often, they were exhausted and enthralled by the spinning top of whatever relationship they were in, beginning or ending. They wanted true love, less coffee and some flour-less chocolate torte.
- The women in their teens were just dipping their toes into adulthood, terrified and excited, not sure how to be or dress or talk or present themselves to others, and wanting to connect back with the knowing girl they had been. They also liked cupcakes.
- The girls were all right, usually pretty happy and free. They were all the candy.
Now this is obviously not a scientific sampling, but it does jive with what I see around me in girls and women over the years. As we get older, we toss off the cloak of who others want us to be, and we come home to who we truly are.
So to my littlest sister Jen (as well as my next in age sister Lauren and my mom Barbara), I want to say, “welcome home to us all!” And especially to Jen, “Happy Birthday. 40 is just the gateway to all the goodness ahead.”
Pictures: Jen on top, and then Lauren and me.