Thoughts On the Occasion of My Forty-fourth Birthday

I really thought I’d be a grown up by now. I’m glad that I’m not. Most of them don’t look like they are having anywhere near as much fun as I like to have.
On rare occasions I do feel like a full-fledged adult — like when I’m at work and I think about how the balance of someone’s life lies in my hands. This sounds grandiose, but often it is true. I try not to dwell on it because it gives me nightmares some nights. Dinging monitor alarms and crashing patients without some piece of equipment or medicine that we so desperately need. I wake up with my heart pounding. I suppose that, in part, is what it’s like to be grown up.
Never, though, have I ever felt so much like an adult as I did after my mother died — a year after my father died. Then I felt old.
Today, at forty-four, I’m only a grown-up sometimes. Instead, I take the sweet gifts that age has given me, and I skip on avoiding the other parts except when necessary.
These days most of the time I’m much less concerned with my weight and my looks than I am with being able to hike miles to breathtaking vistas, or paddle toward the horizon, or master defense in jiujitsu, or even to sleep soundly and move painlessly. Still, though, I’d like to look better in a little black dress and a bathing suit, and some days, like today, I find myself apologizing in my head to everyone around me for being fat and slow and cumbersome. At forty-four, though, I can appreciate that there’s really no reason to apologize because the people around me really don’t care. They love me just as I am.
Truthfully, they love me more as I am than I even do because they love the me they see every day, and I am a stranger to myself. When I take the time to really look in the mirror, I am amazed to see a woman I do not know staring back at me. Though she resembles me, she has so many more lines and freckles and fluff than the girl I am in my own mind. And quite a bit more sadness. Sometimes her eyes are wells of sadness that she doesn’t mean to let show because she has such an amazing life that she is grateful for and happy about. Maybe that, too, is part of what it is to be grown up.
Much of that sadness comes from loss, a selfish missing of those who have moved on. One of the days I miss Mama and Daddy and others most is my birthday. One never truly understands the value of a sentiment until the voice isn’t around to express it. Or the paw isn’t there to pat it. Some of that sadness comes from others’ losses that I have witnessed and knowing their birthdays will forever be different, too.
Nothing makes me question the purpose of it all like those occasions when life’s impermanence is underscored. I’ve spent a lot of time pondering that — life’s purpose. Right now my conclusion is that almost nothing matters — except love. Love matters. And health. Our Health matters.
Love is one of the few things that truly endures. I might have lost people precious to me, but their love lives on. Not only do I exist because of it, but because I was shown how to love, how to express love, how to live love, others feel loved, too, and can spread that on. Our love is a piece of us left behind, an imprint far larger than the contribution of our DNA.
Understanding love is likely the idealistic little girl living on. Certainly, the importance of health is the adult part of my psyche making her appearance. For what are more years if they are lived in physical pain and limited to the recliner and the bed — at least if that can be avoided? So I’ve learned to love salad and to appreciate the importance of yoga. I know that being able to get myself up out of the floor is a life skill not everyone has, and knees that can walk up hill without aching are both a blessing and about life choices. Without good health, life becomes increasingly less of a celebration and more of a chore.
Sometimes, I wish I could start over at about eighteen-years-old knowing what I know now, but somehow I don’t think that’s the way it’s supposed to work. I think the lessons come when they’re supposed to, when we are receptive to them — sometimes when our hearts are broken just enough to let the light in.

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