Another milestone birthday went by this year. I find words like ‘Milestone’ and ‘Deadline’ terribly intimidating. These words loom. They lurk. Other birthdays merrily skip in and out but milestone ones kick off their shoes, pour themselves a drink and wait wearily, weighed down by expectations of everything that ought to have been achieved by now.
A quick mental survey of my ‘achievements’ draws a blank. The word implies a fierce need that propels one successfully towards a goal. I like not knowing what comes next and life has happened with very little effort from me. It hasn’t been without hiccups and bumps but that’s the best thing about not having a plan. Everything is an adventure especially when I remind myself that neither the good nor the bad will last long.
My friends ask me what it feels like to be 50. I let that number sink in and swirl around a bit in my mind. It feels exactly like 49. But rather different from 39. Truth is, age is marked by more than just a date on the calendar. Sure, its aches and pains and a person in the mirror who looks increasingly different from the one in my head- but it’s also a process that has quietly played out while life has kept me distracted.
I started out with some trepidation. There was a lot about myself that I didn’t like and was certain that the people I loved would disappear if I blinked. My subconscious defense mechanisms against this was to either be cold and aloof, or be the exact opposite and be so agreeable as to never cause a ripple. I was yet to learn that finding validation in self because of how someone else sees me, is fickle business.
Its not that wisdom or maturity come with age. In fact, I was more mature at 22. My sister’s wisdom comes in alarming bouts before receding behind absolute faith in all things happy. But one comes into the world, a bundle of possibilities. Wrinkles and drool notwithstanding. Everything from then on serves to whittle and shape and polish till time finally runs out. Whether one chooses to gather wisdom from every nick and stub and experience, is an entirely different matter.
In my early 20’s, I was an expert on just about everything. The following decade, motherhood hurriedly relieved me of that belief. I set out with the rather pious air of the selfless, to raise my girls to be kind, confident and emotionally secure. Well equipped to take on an ever changing world. I was under the delusion that for this ambitious task, I had to be perfect by all traditional standards.
Naturally, the first thunderbolt of enlightenment was how little I knew and how spectacularly imperfect I am. Especially after my mother’s initial invaluable help where she had made it seem so easy and natural.
I followed all the rules and advices on parenting while struggling with the guilt of how monotonous and exhausting I found it all. It became clear upon some independent reflection, that the only way to do this was to do it my way, and to take it one day at a time. Forget spotlessly clean house and organized activities. Aim for small triumphs and simple joys- clean diapers, full tummy, happy giggles, unstructured play and lots of reading in bed. Anything that was the call of the hour.
Self discovery was a large part of motherhood and it taught me lessons far beyond anything to do with parenting. It taught me to break boundaries and to listen to my heart. To love, and later, to let go.
I realized that selflessness was overrated as well as misunderstood. In fact I have been incredibly fortunate to have the support and favorable circumstances to wander through life, landing exactly where I pleased, at all times. From not knowing what I wanted to be, to the revelation that one could be many things at the same time. Limited only by my hesitation and procrastination.
Life can be a thing of great wonder. Even though there is no magic formula to living it right. All anyone is after, really, is happiness. Just be kind, a little selfish, love a lot, use common sense and don’t let someone else’s experiences, opinions, prejudices or grudges hold you prisoner. Or be trapped in your own pettiness. Happiness is usually just a step away from an expansion of heart and mind. Even though it may seem elusive at times.
It is there in being around a person you love. It’s in rainy days and train journeys. In traveling to remote parts of the world. The sound of a voice. In music and memories. In careers and ambitions. Happiness is in the mere existence of a goofy old golden retriever. Happiness can also mean a selfie so enhanced, one doesn’t recognize one’s own self.
It is now my turn to put into practice the concept to live and let live. To fit into a world that never stands still. Not everything about it is beautiful. But honestly, not everything was. It is my turn to observe and empathize with and be respectful of what I don’t understand. To educate myself about things that may be outside my comfort zone. To embrace change and not be afraid. I expect that of myself now the same way I expected that of my children then.
I don’t want to grow old lamenting that the world used to be a better place. As if it is somehow someone else’s fault, as if it isn’t nostalgia talking, as if we are not all in this together.
This birthday has placed me firmly over the hill, I’ve very certainly lived longer than I will. The thought is surprisingly liberating and the occasional pangs of guilt at not doing something phenomenal with my life, has gone blunt. There is a sense of freedom to throw myself into the little things I enjoy, that don’t need to be noticed or applauded.
What matters now is different from what used to. Intelligent conversations and a sense of humor has more appeal than a handsome face. There is beauty in imperfections. Great strength and value in my tribe of female friendships. Fitness, above all else. And love. Without it, there is nothing.
The threshold of autumn, my most favorite season, is just a few more miles down the road. It’s been a long colorful summer. Always strong and steady against heat and storms. Unlike the tender beginning blooms of spring, so sensitive to frost. Ahead, beautiful peaceful autumn. A burst of glorious color on the outside while preparing for the serene stillness of winter yet to come.
I used to tell my girls to ‘glance back’ when leaving a room and make sure they left it in as good a shape, if not better, than they found it. I think that applies to life on earth as well. Make your mark, make mistakes, have your fun but have the courtesy and integrity to clean up your own mess before you leave.
Knowledge, introspection, acceptance. I guess that is what turning 50 has meant. But I have only just got here. I need to put up my feet for a bit , and raise a glass to how fantastic it is that I have arrived. And remind myself to have my baggage in hand before it’s my time to glance back.