Halfway – Reflections From a Birthday Girl

twin peaks with flagI’ve reached an imagined halfway point – halfway between birth and death.  Research tells me that barring fatal accident or illness I could live to 90 years old, which sounds like a long time but it’s tricky to resist the ‘getting old’ mentality when wrinkles and joint aches pile up.

I’ve flirted with the idea of death and decline before, as have an increasing number of my middle-aged friends thanks to the ‘Big C’ and other cradle-robbing diagnoses.  What I’ve discovered is that if you marinate in fear of aging you’ll turn sour and ruin any chance of enjoying a delicious life.

I’m not the first philosopher to uncover the revelation that what matters is not how long one lives but rather how.  How have I lived? In themed decades, it seems.

In my teens I worried a lot. (About being popular and pretty and smart.)

In my twenties I dreamed a lot. (About success and family)

In my thirties I did a lot. (Bore children, cared for a house and a career.)

And in my forties, so far, I’ve learned a lot. About life.

Mainly I’ve learned that the older I get the less I know. In young adulthood I was so sure of everything.  The sky was blue, personal safety was my birthright and friends would be friends forever.  But maturity has a way of blending black and white certainty into a canvas of gray.  Losses and disappointments pile up alongside victories – twin peaks of the same mountain – and blur what once seemed so clear.  One day, maybe on a birthday, you stand atop the mountain and gaze across the horizon wondering, ‘what’s it all about and what happens now?’

In many ways I am at my peak.  I suspect I’ll spend some time here enjoying the view from the top. But I already feel the pull to begin my descent.  Life calls me to finish my journey in forward motion and not squander it with wishful thinking, refusing to budge from this sweet, sweet spot.

I know I won’t travel the same path down the mountain that I chose on the way up. I’ll bypass the gullies of naïveté and ambition and stop more frequently to cherish a loving gesture. I’ll be in less of a hurry to reach my destination and more willing to put aside my agenda in favor of lending a hand.  And I will love every step and misstep because it will remind me that I am still living.  Not just alive, but living.

In a sense I’ll be un-learning all the things that sustained me on the first half of my journey; gracefully (I hope) unraveling the knots of the rope that I climbed on the way up.  When all is said and done and I return to my starting point, I hope to look back with satisfaction knowing that no matter how many travel this way again, the mountain will never be climbed exactly as I climbed it.  No one can do or see or be exactly like me.  Each of us is unrepeatable.

 

“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” – Abraham Lincoln

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Elizabeth Palmer
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 10:39:56

    That was a very moving piece. Thank you for sharing your experience and wisdom.

    Reply

  2. Deb Dunham
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 15:57:47

    Thank you for sensing wisdom in it. Another gift of aging – wisdom!

    Reply

  3. Sacha
    Sep 03, 2014 @ 13:14:56

    I’m wildly busy this morning and yet when i see “Chaos and Clarity” in my inbox I can’t wait to pause and read your post. Once again, I am awestruck. You so eloquently convey what bounces around my emotional body and seems to have no words. You both express my confusions and give me more to ponder. I LOVE the idea of acknowledging the different desires that have come with each phase of my life. And now as I am just shy of my 60th, I continually ask myself how will the next couple of decades be filled with the juiciest memories and how will I create the greatest peace for my soul. Saying good bye to so many loved ones this year, I have become clear that I want what i want. And at the top of my list is the continual expansion of my capacity to be love. thank you Deb Dunham for sharing yourself with us so openly – YOU make a world of difference.

    Reply

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