Forty is a magical age. Dr. Spock doesn’t list any milestones for this age but I can tell you it’s surprisingly enjoyable and free-ing to crest that hill and begin your leisurely roll down the other side. By far the best part of turning forty, is the perspective it gives you. But you can’t rush it! You’ve got to wait for it. You have to live all forty years before perspective is in your purview.
What do I mean by perspective? Well, maybe “patterns” is a better word. It takes the blessing of living and observing for forty years to recognize the patterns in the world, in people, in our spouses and in ourselves. Recognizing these patterns makes living much calmer.
When one is young, each new pattern may feel traumatic. Like it will last forever. The political party you don’t support wins an election and it feels like they’ll be in power for-frickin-ever. Your child enters a new, annoying phase of growing up and it feels like their snarky “Whatevs” phase will last forever. You get in a mood and it feels like it’ll last forever.
Turning forty helps you realize that life is cyclical and nothing lasts forever.
Around 250 BC, King Solomon penned these words in Ecclesiastes 1: 9 (KJV):
The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be;
and that which is done is that which shall be done:
and there is no new thing under the sun.
In the laste 1950s Pete Seeger made the concept more approachable when he penned the song Turn! Turn! Turn! made famous by the Byrds.
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep
It took turning forty to make me realize just how true this was, is and ever will be. Every season of darkness is pushed out by enlightenment. The Roman hedonism and debauchery was eventually replaced by Puritanism. What was seen as shocking in the 1960s is seen as quaint, almost prudish, sixty years later. Democrat follows Republican follows Democrat. Sworn enemies become allies. Enrons come and go. Nothing ever stays the same.
Life is like the weather. Here in Minnesota we say that if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes. It’ll change. Life is like that. There’s no reason to take each new fad or season or politician all that seriously. Just wait five minutes. It’ll change.
One of the most interesting things about turning forty, is being able to recognize patterns in people, including yourself. Instead of being reactive and a slave to those patterns, one can say with a chuckle, “You’re doing it again. I’m doing it again. Calm the heck down!”
My pattern, or rather weakness, is freaking out about things. When trauma is your “normal” and you’ve sloshed through life in a sea of cortisol and PTSD, freaking out comes naturally. I have a quarter century of practice at quietly freaking out. I’m an expert! 😉
Almost a decade of attacks and threats from family members, Michael’s medical emergencies, unforeseen medical bills and domestic disasters have only heightened my trauma response. Even trivial things going wrong makes me feel like my world is crumbling ’round my ears. I overreact. I go into hyper-defense mode. I hit that problem head on like an M1A1 tank. That’s my pattern. I don’t like it but identifying it was half the battle in fixing it.
Fixing it usually means holding very still and waiting for the storm to blow over. It always does.
Michael has his own pattern. In his world, the unthinkable always happens. Everyone he’s ever loved has died or been snatched from his arms. The worst things that can happen in life have happened to him and thus he feels the worst things are not only possible, but probable.
He expects the worst to protect himself from ever being blindsided again. He might be admitted to hospital for something trivial, but he’ll loudly say he expects to be split from stem-to-stern for exploratory surgery. That’s silly, of course, but expecting the worst makes every other treatment easy for him to bear. That’s his pattern.
His pattern used to freak me out, but once I identified it, and stopped taking it so damn seriously, I could stay calm about it.
Being held against my will for so long, to me life became a Destination. I was in a holding pattern, hoping that Someday life would start for me. Life was a Goal much desired, never granted.
Then one day, all my dreams came true. But no one told my brain. I was stuck in “Destination-Someday-Goal” mode.
Turning forty is helping me to realize that Life is not a Destination. You never arrive. You are never done. It is a Journey. Being focused exclusively on a Destination robs you of the joy and pleasure of the Journey. And, spoiler alert, our final destination is Death. So you’d better enjoy the journey, Honey Child! Don’t save up all your living for Heaven. I know the world is a dangerous place but dare to do your living here too!
Everything you do today will have to be redone tomorrow, next week or next year. When you vacuum the carpet for the 1,497,268th time, that begins to sink in. Everything you wash today, will have to be washed again (including yourself!). The paperwork you fill out and file today will probably have to be done again. The house repairs you complete today are already under assault by the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, not to mention Murphy’s Law!
Actually, that’s a gift. In Season 2 of Torchwood, Dr. Owen Harper dies and is brought back to “life” by the Resurrection Gauntlet. He can move and talk but technically he’s still dead. No breath, no pulse, no blood, no eating, no drinking, no healing. He’s shown sadly throwing out all his toiletries, putting the contents of his refrigerator in the trash and bemoaning not being able to shag anymore.
That puts the monotony of re-doing everything we’ve already done into perspective. The need to re-do everything over and over means we’re alive and life is the greatest gift of all. Even the most boring, sedate life is full of small pleasures that, if you take the time to notice and savor them, are quite hedonistic! As Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, “The world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.”
If you or someone you love is dreading the Big Four-Oh, take heart! Life is actually better on the other side. It’s calmer. You can wink at the ridiculousness of it all once you have the perspective of being forty and identifying all those cyclical (I was going to say “silly”) patterns.