I remember being so excited to turn ten. Two digits.
As the years have wound on, I’ve begun to take notice of more than the cakes (though the cakes are still great fun, maybe even more fun since I can make them myself). Sometime in my twenties, I started making annual inventories around birthday times. What happened in the last year’s go-round? Where have I been? What’s changed?
Anyone who knows me much, or follows this blog closely, might have picked up on the fact that it’s been a helluva year in my life. Two of the four people who raised me as parents have died, as well as a few more friends near and far. I’ve carried responsibility around the process of one of those deaths, and it has been a far less than easy process. The experiences, altogether, have been a fairly big shake-up of my world view and life in general.
But I’m still pretty psyched to be where and who I am. Forty years is beginning to sound and feel like the middle of my life. I am feeling the heft of myself as a somewhat more substantial person. No longer so young, uncertain, inexperienced. Still able, willing, strong, and more stable than I ever was before, just seasoned now by a few more trips around the sun.
There’s enough of life’s road behind me to gain at least a little perspective about where I come from, and the road ahead, though it is still flexible, has more form now too. That youthful desire to understand and KNOW EVERYTHING has faded into a more gentle curiosity. What a relief to find that I still grow, learn, progress without those flames licking my heals. I may have lines around my eyes now, but I’m grateful to have left adolescence and early adulthood behind.
This past year, I began to witness more clearly in myself and those around me the workings of this mid-life transition. As the dreams of our younger years are realized, they become much less dreamy. Sometimes they dissolve altogether, leaving muddy puddles of regret, or weedy patches of disappointment. Sometimes they never precipitate at all, and whole new realities sprout around us without warning. The person we married ten years ago isn’t the same one we’re sharing a home with now. I recognize myself in that ten year old girl thirty years ago, but only from deep down inside. We all change. It won’t necessarily be easy, but it can be very good.
And, the longer we live, the more people around us pass away from living. Surviving those deaths changes the way we carry on, and helps us get a grip on the fact of mortality. Sometimes the air around me seems thicker with the presences of the people who have gone on, whose memories and presence linger in mine. That thickness of the atmosphere is cumulative, and more tangible when I visit my grandfather, and others in their upper years. Some carry it hard and heavy, and others with sweetness, but it looks like a natural part of the maturation process.
I guess that’s what I’m exploring here. Maturity. Some qualities of maturity, in my opinion include: an open-eyed acceptance of the way things are, an un-shirking attitude toward whatever work is at hand, and staying power for the variable courses of family and community life, for starters. I’m not claiming to be a perfectly mature person, or defining when maturity begins or should begin. Far from it. I really feel like I’ve just begun to lay eyes on the fact of its existence. But I can feel and see, from here, that maturity, in all its outward and inward characteristics, is no cause for fear or shame. It is strong, and beautiful, and necessary in its strength and beauty.
In the larger world of our wild mammalian kin, gray and white hair are indications of a creature who has reached an age not of frailty, but of full power and strength. Makes sense to me. I got a few white hairs while I was traveling the world in my twenties. But raising children gave me more, and the past year has really accelerated the silver streak. And those things that have contributed most to the whiteness of my head have also contributed to the wisdom of my heart. No complaints there.
I am still a little vain. Sometimes the lines on my face and white streaks in my hair bug me. When I brush my hair back, and Lulah exclaims “Oh Mama, I can see all the white that way!”, I used to brush at a different angle. But more and more, I can smile in return and say, “That’s just OK.”