I should lean in, embrace change, go gluten free, do a juice cleanse, manage up, rock a beach body, and be a free-range tiger mom. Granted, I’m registered on facebook as a 116 year old man so I get some really weird spam suggestions from that venue too. I lost track.
I remember meeting women in their forties when I was in high school and marveling at how they had it all together. Surely the age came with a swag bag of knowledge, style and guts.
Surely I have something pithy to contribute to the world at this age of wisdom? I am the medical director for a busy emergency department and practice full time emergency medicine. I am the mother of an early tween. I am one half of a dual military couple, as my husband and I juggle schedules and talk acronyms to make sure our days work. People ask me for advice.
Some days I am a spectacular mess putting on a great front.
Other days less so.
I have learned a few things. Weekend warrior type athletics will hurt you. Forty year old tendons and joints need constant use, not bursts of activity to make up for a sedentary week. Sciatica and arthritis and old sounding ailments are real and can at least be kept at bay by regular exercise.
For me, that exercise is mixed martial arts. It is no longer running ten or twenty miles a week. Forty year old cartilage needs lower impact. Maybe not water aerobics but probably not pounding the pavement. Facing this reality is the first hint that I am now playing the back nine.
I have learned that almost everything for sale is useless. Trust me. I get the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog for some unknown reason. The amount of our economy devoted to vanity is mindblowing. I don’t live in a cave. I own stuff. But I really, really don’t want any more stuff. And I can look to the horizon and see a kid going to college and think about downsizing. And that feels good.
Reflecting on current events in the world, places I have been and things I have seen, I have this to say: I know what scary is and scary isn’t any of the things I used to be afraid of. Things that are still scary? In no particular order: hemorrhaging neck wounds, melanoma, violent extremism, the ecological health of our oceans. Not scary? Most everything else.
Is mortality scary? I haven’t decided, which is odd given that I deal with it as a physician on a regular basis. But we tend to view the patients and their diseases as “the other” and most doctors are pretty sure nothing will happen to us.
My husband and I compare bucket lists. Our daughter is developing hers. Much of it involves travel for all of us. Some of it involves un-bucket for me: things I will not do again under any circumstances. While it would be great to visit the Galapagos (and it is on the list) it might be even better for mental health to never take that hotel room right by the elevator or buy those shoes that will fit “after they break in”. Time has always been precious. I am more aware of it now. There is a keen sense of not passing this way again.
Sorry, fruit flavored beer. We gave it a go. It’s not me, its you.
Ahem, toxic people. Same problem.
At forty, all I know is that the future will be different than I predict. Right now you can take pictures underwater with an iphone in a waterproof case. Taking pictures. Underwater. With a telephone. How far we have come. Research utilizing PET scans has found that adolescents use not just different parts of their brains to solve problems but in fact have slightly structurally different brains. The next generation has evolved a modified brain, likely to cope with developments that the older generation can’t even fathom. So while a part of me is consumed by an urge (there go those merit badge impulses again) to contribute something to society, the other part shrugs it off. The kids have it. They will be fine. I am truly over the hill.
I was hiking in the Rockies over ten years ago. I was alone and ten thousand feet up. For a lifelong Midwesterner, the changes in vegetation and temperature on a hike like that are dramatic. There were green mountain lakes far below and snow under my boots. Maybe it was the thin air talking but I was certain that if a mountain lion ate me at that moment, I wouldn’t mind. My life was complete. It was such a crystalline moment that I think of it still. So many blessings have come since then. If the mountain lion tried it tomorrow, I would fight back.
You had your chance then, I’m busy now.