I once saw an adorable meme – or maybe comic? The difference between the two mediums is now blurring – of a picture of a hospital nursery filled with identical-looking swaddled newborns with one of them circled in marker. The caption read, “This is my baby. There are many similar babies. But this one is mine.”
That sentiment has stuck with me: “I am a person. There are many similar people, but this is me.”
Tomorrow is my 40th birthday. Tomorrow is also the 40th birthday of approximately 348,030 other people throughout the world, minus those who have already died. Half of them are women. I bet a good number of them are named Sarah.
We live in an individualistic society, but all I can think about is how alike we all are to each other, drops in the same ocean. I wonder how ridiculous we look to aliens or gods who might be watching us fight from afar.
We are very much alike, and also very much isolated, natural naval-gazers wrapped up in our own heads and our own phones. The moments of my life that drive me to the closest points of ecstasy are the ones that remind me that – hey! – almost all of this stuff I spend so much time worrying about and obsessing over are actually much smaller deals than they seem, and getting all worked up about them is a waste of time. Remembering that it’s a waste of time while I’m getting all worked up about them is the tricky part, of course. Oh, how I wish to live with the feeling of having just read a Mary Oliver poem!
Anyway, tomorrow’s the day: it’s when I officially step into my fourth decade, a place that, as a younger person, I was never quite able to imagine. And now I’m here. A nice day is planned: breakfast with my boyfriend, lunch with a tiny group at an outdoor place because we’re still in the midst of an unhinged pandemic, ice cream cake. My daughter.
I face my 40s with excitement…and a drop of dread. The exciting part: how many people have told me that the 40s are the best years of one’s life? A lot. “You’ve still mostly got your youth and hormones, and you’ve also got some wisdom and a generally more relaxed attitude to let yourself enjoy it.” Many authors and other famous personalities I look up to really hit their stride in their 40s. And that happens to be the source of some of that dread: what if I somehow fail to make the most of it?
I remember when my mom turned 40. I remember the t-shirt we got her, which 10-year-old me thought was hilarious: “Lordy, lordy, look who’s 40!” It was purple, the lettering embroidered in playful hot pink cursive.
For my mom, I’m pretty sure her 40s were her best decade. Her daughters were older and liked spending time with her. She got better jobs. She got married again. It was the 90s, a decade in which we had great music, just enough technology to be convenient but not so much that it took over our lives, and where we didn’t spend too much time worrying about all the weird chemicals in our processed food that we enjoyed guilt-free.
I hope my 40s are good, too. If I can get out of my head often enough, I think they will be. Maybe I’ll actually remember to start meditating, praying, and doing other things that are good for me. Maybe I’ll learn to focus on the good things and not take the bad ones too seriously while also not letting myself go to the other extreme and becoming a psychopath who doesn’t worry about anything or anyone at all, ever.
Maybe I’ll let go of my fear toward the whole idea behind the “Secret,” terrified that I’m casting unintentional horrible spells on myself by not being “intentional in my demands of the universe” (if that’s not pressure to control one’s anxiety, then I don’t know what is).
Maybe I’ll stop living month to month wondering if I’ll be able to string together enough gigs from several different non-committed employers to meet the financial obligations that are as steady, consistent, and ever-growing as I wish a job just for me were.
Maybe I’ll stop feeling like the secrets of how the world works are just on the other side of a thin membrane that I’m so close to breaking, but never actually do, either because I realize that it’s unbreakable or because I magically get through.
Maybe I’ll finally get to become that combination of Dolly Parton, Fred Rogers, Marie Forleo, David Sedaris, Lily Tomlin, and Jen Sincero that I’ve always wanted to be.
Maybe I’ll stop disappointing myself.
Maybe I’ll finally relax enough to truly love and accept myself the way others do, and the way I should.
Happy birthday to me, and happy birthday to my 340k+ birthday twins.