44 is one step closer to 50, and 50 is half-way to 100, a milestone most of us will not meet. 44 is only one year from 45, which is the age at which I will undeniably be knee-deep in my 40s, firmly entrenched in middle age; no turning back, a different box on demographic surveys, a mere decade away from starting to receive brochures about retirement communities and hip replacements.
There are a lot of things that no one told me about being in my 40s. Things I assumed everyone was exaggerating about or that I never thought would happen to me. I never thought I would still be wearing a retainer, for one.
I assumed that chin hairs would always be kind of a jokey thing, that I would go gray gracefully in a nice controlled streak that I could then dye pink. I assumed that middle-aged spread was for other people, that bosoms were for grandmas. I assumed that losing weight would continue to be as easy as cutting out carbs for a week or so. I assumed that getting news of the death of peers or their fight against cancer would still be miles and decades away.
Though I may not have sprung out of bed with enthusiasm at the idea of celebrating the passage of another year, I know this much is true: Waking up today at 44 is, as the cliché goes, better than the alternative. Waking up today at 44 means I have been given the best gift I could be given: one more day. Another day to feel sunshine on my skin, to feel my boys’ arms around my neck. Another day means I have the opportunity to feel the warmth of my husband’s body next to mine, to roll into the protection of his arms. Waking up today at 44 means I have been given the gift of another day to ponder a cloudless sky, to enjoy the conversation of friends, to wonder at the world or create a perfect sentence.
The confidence I carry with me, the resolution that I feel, the mettle of my voice and words: those thing are hard-won. The lividity of the scars may have faded, but the battles were real. The wisdom that comes with experience, the calm that comes with acceptance, the peace of being comfortable in the who, what, where and when. All those things are the gifts of age. I know this much is true.
I know which direction the wind of my life blows and I can chart its course. I cannot control it, but I can bend with it instead of being battered by it. I can recognize my strengths, can better avoid my weaknesses. I can believe passionately without the self-consumption which comes with being blind to alternative. All of these things are the gifts of experience. I know this much is true.
I am a better mother to my children, a better wife to my husband, a better daughter, friend, partner, collaborator. I am a better listener, a better problem solver, a better writer. That is the gift of having been around the block a few times. I know this much is true.
It is getting easier to accentuate the positive, to distance myself from the negative, to understand both sides of a story. Right now is a tipping point. I can choose to spend my time looking back, or I can choose to spend it looking forward. Understanding that dwelling in the past can stop you from moving forward into the future, understanding that time is not unlimited, that it will one day stop for you all together, these things are the gifts of getting older. I know this much is true.
In the end, having to slow down a little bit, having to replace a few body parts here and there, well…that seems a small price to pay for the gift of another day, another year, another birthday. The older I get, the more it makes sense.
I know that much is true.