I turned 40 yesterday. Predictably, I seem to have done most of my angsting about the change in decade in advance, but it still prompted some reflection on decades and the ways they do seem to delineate our years.
From this vantage, the central theme of my twenties was figuring out who I was, or more often, who I wasn’t. I went down so many paths trying to satisfy the expectations of others, only to find myself at a breaking point where the only options were to let my self be swallowed by those expectations or to jump ship in some dramatic fashion. I bailed from student teaching, a first marriage, and a “good” job (several times on the job one). I escaped to live abroad, to climb mountains, to hike thousands of miles… all of which turned out not to be the point, but provided clues about who I was along the way. I’m grateful that I mustered the courage to bail each time I needed it, and I’m even more grateful that I (eventually) figured out how to avoid getting myself into circumstances that required courageous exits.
It’s surprising to me now how thirty really was an inflection point. Between my 30th and 31st birthdays, Dean and I took our first trip together (to Alaska), I started telecommuting, and we bought the land that has become the homestead. The last decade feels like it has been all about staying – the slow and hard work of building a home, a community, a relationship, a life. Figuring out how to accept this person who it turns out I am, this person who doesn’t tidily satisfy expectations, be they others’ or my own. It’s all so much less dramatic than my twenties, but it feels much more radical.
So here I am at 40. I celebrated by biking out to a local state park for a quick overnight camp, and as I struggled up the umpteenth little hill with my gear-laden bike, I thought about how grateful I am for this body at age 40, for how alive I continue to feel when I run and bike and backpack and dig and all the other ways I inhabit this physical body. I can’t really imagine what the next decade will bring, but it feels filled with possibility. However it unfolds, gratitude and possibility feels like a pretty good place to start from.