Isn’t it strange and amazing how sometimes the universe provides wisdom at the exact moment you are ready to receive it? Is it destiny? Coincidence? Some network of Google spies and Facebook analysts scrutinizing your internet usage to maximize ad space on your profile page? Have the answers been there all along and you just needed to open yourself up to them?
Whatever the reason, the last few weeks have opened my eyes to the endless opportunities to expand joy. The cosmos have great timing, as I happen to be turning forty in two days.
I have always felt an emotional attachment to books. As a child, I read the same books over and over because it felt like visiting with a trusted friend. Up until a couple of weeks ago, I had not read How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran, but the attachment was still there- in this case, connecting with a person I used to be and needed to reacquaint myself with.
I have long identified as a feminist, but lost touch with what that means to me on a personal level. The entire book was great, but one particular chapter “Intervention” gave me the kick in the ass I needed.
Aging is tough on my esteem. Every day, I look in the mirror and see sags and bags. Do wrinkles feed off of sleep? Every morning they appear to have multiplied. Daily, my flab gets just a bit flabbier.
I saw a flier in my doctor’s office for some sort of lypo, fat dissolving technique. What could it hurt to ask about it?
It did hurt. Many women undergo these procedures and report a boost in their self esteem. Good for them. For me, I felt worse- like I was cheating on an ideal I believe in.
I read these words in “Intervention” and it was like a personal call to arms- DO NOT GIVE UP ON THE PERSON YOU WANT TO BE!
“Having finally left behind the- let’s be frank- awfulness of your twenties…..your thirties are a point where the good stuff finally kicks in. …How odd then, that as your face and body finally begin to display the signs (lines, softening, gray hairs) that you’ve entered the zone of kick-ass eminence and intolerance of dullards, there should be pressure for you to…totally remove them. Give the impression that, actually, you are still a bit gullible and incompetent, and totally open to being screwed over by someone a bit cleverer and older than you. I don’t want that. I want a face full of frown lines and weariness and cream colored teeth that, frankly tells stupid and venal people to FUCK OFF.”
YESSSSS!! HELL YES! While this particular passage is about the fight with physical appearance, for me, it was like a slap in the face followed by a stern talking to. “Wake up! You are more than a bag of flab, a maker of peanut butter sandwiches, and a cleaner of potties. You are a WOMAN dammit!”
I ended the book feeling like a tiger, ready to pounce on life and devour every morsel. I cautioned myself not too get too excited- that it was just a book. In a few days my zest would lessen and I should prepare myself for reality sinking in.
Why not get give in to excitement? Why not grasp on to joy when it presents itself? My heart screamed leap, Leap, LEAP!!
While all birthdays cause me to reflect on life, 40 feels significant. Statistically, it’s all downhill from here. How many days do I have left to enjoy this existence? One? A thousand? Thousands? It IS going to end. Will I make the most of my opportunities for wonder, or will I squander them to my ego?
As I opened myself up to appreciating and receiving life, I was blessed with gift after gift- birthday presents, if you will.
A couple of years ago, I watched a caterpillar hatch into a moth. A few days ago, I remarked to a friend how I hadn’t seen any caterpillars this year, and I was really hoping to have that experience again. I now have two bins of caterpillars to feed and care for. Did the universe change the patterns of caterpillar metamorphosis because I read and related to a feminist manifesto? No. But it is a lovely reminder as to how spectacular the growth process can be when you allow nature to lead.
I was reminded of the downright fun physical appearance can be when you refuse to take it seriously. Because of friends and children, I have two opportunities to play dress up to celebrate my birthday. This past weekend, I got gussied up as a 1940’s dame to go out with the girls. On my actual birthday, I will be playing pirate with my sons. Why worry about looking a certain way or fitting a specific size when you can border on ridiculous and get away with it by saying “arrrrrgh!”
It is ok to do something simply because it feels good, and there is more than one way to tell a story. I got into doodling. Silly, without purpose doodling, and somehow found my zen. Better yet, I discovered a way to connect with my sons. Most days, we gather up our sketching journals, sit on the floor and draw together.
My love of beer led me down a new path of health. What? I know, you are skeptical. But I found a local brewery that brews a sour beer I really like. They also happen to have yoga on Sunday mornings. My workout time is limited. I tend to skip activities like yoga in favor of cardio. But, I determined I could ride my bike to and from yoga, taking care of the cardio. Then an hour of yoga. I was astounded at how much I needed the yoga- both from a place of strengthening specific muscles and increasing balance, but also finding a space for peace and focusing my thoughts. After yoga, I drink a beer while doodling. It is the perfect morning- I hit all my major pastimes in a span of two hours.
By falling in love with drawing, I awakened a confidence that I could make money doing something I enjoyed- a pretty big step for me. Looking for pictures to build a portfolio, I ran across photographs from years past- parties I went to, my children as they’ve grown, friends and their children, family gatherings. I have a GREAT life. Even in my darkest moments, I have been surrounded by friends and family to love and care for me. I have never been truly alone.
Yes, for the first time, I am noticing the age of my body. I have pain in my neck that only goes away when I make a habit of completing exercises to strengthen my core. In my youth, exercise was optional- something I should do, but I would be ok if I skipped it. The option is gone. Time is taking its toll.
But my wrinkles are smile lines- not frowns. Its kind of beautiful to think I have smiled enough to leave a permanent reminder of those happy moments forever embedded upon my face.
My sons were sitting on my legs a few days ago, pretending I was a sailboat. Liam lifted my shirt and put his hands on my stomach. I know he likes to touch my abdomen because it is soft. He jiggled the fat and said “I like your jelly belly.”
When I tell that story to girlfriends, they give me the look like I must have been mortified. But I kind of liked it. I do have a jelly belly. It is fun to jiggle. With any luck, this generation of children will hit their fortieth milestone without a thought as to if their stomachs wiggle too much.
For the next 40 years, if I’m lucky enough to have that, I don’t want to be- I want to do. I want to sing every day, push my body to try new things, take in my surroundings, give and receive love to the point of overflowing, make art, be present in the moment, eat, drink and be merry. That sounds like a life worth living. Keep me accountable.