I recently had a birthday, yet there wasn’t anything to celebrate. And it wasn’t that I turned all grouchy because I tacked on another year; with all the anger and frustration surrounding me, I figured I’d hold off the festivities until it’s safe. You know, maybe in 2092.
That aside, I took stock how people grapple with their existence as they rack up the number count. Saw a post on Twitter that went something like this: “Somebody read my MS and didn’t like it. Should I give up? I’m in my 30s and I’m running out of time.”
I kid you not.
If only this person were near me, I’d be oh-so-tempted to bitch-slap them. Running out of time for what? Most people laughed at this post. As it turns out, they weren’t dying, or have COVID. The only thing wrong was they weren’t published. Seems they had some kind of artificial deadline for themselves. It didn’t matter that they didn’t master the craft, or wrote something that could be sold, or had any idea that actually making it to the top takes hard work and thick skin. This person, from what the thread read, expected their golden gems of prose to be gasped at by agents/publishers, with the door to their home being pounded into a pulp to be the first to claim the prize of their work. At some point in this so-called writer’s life, an artificial deadline had been created. If one doesn’t make it by their 30s, then life is pretty much over…as are your dreams.
When I was in my 30s, I finally settled into the career that took me forever to achieve, and I was just getting started. Somehow I didn’t think of my age having to do with anything on that front. It was the way it worked out. In my personal life, my then gynecologist told me since I wasn’t married, I should seriously consider procreating via artificial means so that I could carry on my genes to another generation. I never asked her about having children. I wasn’t even sure I wanted kids. Yet here she was, practically demanding that I give birth for the heck of it. I immediately switched doctors. Told the next one about it. He said it’s no one’s damn business if I want kids or not. If I wanted to bounce a baby out of my body, sure, let’s talk. But until then, the doctor was happy to make sure I kept my yearly visits.
When a person is still in their 30s, there’s a perception of being young yet taken seriously. You’re still trying to figure things out in your 20s: getting drunk on the weekends vs. partnering up and moving on. Turning 40 to a 21-year-old is as unfathomable as turning 25 (which, in my opinion, was the delineation line between youth and adult).
A friend of mine turns 40 shortly. Having passed that threshold ages ago, I didn’t laugh. 40 is a big one. My friend felt kind of depressed about crossing this milestone. He has a great career (although underpaid) and a wonderful spouse. Everything is moving in the right direction, with few worries, good health and more. Middle age is holding out its hand, beckoning him. That’s what’s frightening. It’s a reckoning age, when you start to see things through your parents’ eyes.
I got married for the first (and only) time when I turned 40. My then-boyfriend asked me to marry him. We were in Germany, where I was teaching on a fellowship at a university. The boyfriend was eight years younger than me and English, divorced with children. He seemed to have everything I wanted in a husband, so I said yes. Besides, I was 40. Who else would look at me anymore? No one else banged at my door. He had a great job, money in the bank and he seemed honest. I felt young again, attractive enough to have someone gravitate towards me.
During my 50s, I expected us, as a couple, to start imagining life without our son raiding the refrigerator, leaving a general stink every time took off his shoes and moping about the house for no real reason. Maybe that trip to Venice? Or moving to a quaint little town with a social scene. Instead, I lost everything and became a single woman again. Like a tsunami wiping a town off the earth, all expectation vanished. Without parents (who died within 18 months of each other), or a steady income (I quit my job to care for them) or a place to call home (I couldn’t afford the house we lived in by myself), or even the friends we shared (for some reason, they disappeared), I found myself adrift. I’m in my fifties! What’ll I do?
Whatever I could, as it turned out.
Because my resume seemed a bit lengthy, interviews were few and far in between. Potential bosses perceived me as too old, asking for too much money or unable to grasp the latest technologies required for the modern workplace. If it wasn’t for a department store who hired me as a Christmas temp and kept me on, I’d have no job at all. After three years of constant searching, a thirtysomething executive director perceived me as just the person to take on the position I now have. She didn’t see me as some middle-aged woman desperate for a job, any job. She saw me as the right candidate for the position. Having experience the worst, I appreciated the opportunity to show my skills.
And now, once this damn pandemic is over, I fully intend to explore the world and take advantage of all its marvels. I don’t care how old I am. Every day is a new chance and a fresh slate. Every day we can begin again. Every day we can reinvent ourselves, learn from our mistakes, move forward, and forget the past. All it takes is perceiving that you can.