Today I turn 40. What does that mean exactly? Cultures and people try to place a significance on ages but to what purpose? 16 you can get a license, 18 you can vote and enlist, 21 you can drink, 24 you can rent a car. Arbitrary years that don’t seem to fall in any sort of logical reasoning. 16 you can drive, because that was when Drivers Ed was able to be worked within the school schedule? Well a lot of schools are removing that part of the curriculum and people are going to private lessons. 18 to legally use your voice and make decisions that alter the country by voting or signing a piece of paper stating you are willing to fight and die for your country yet that same country that you are shaping and wagering your blood on says you aren’t adult enough to take a drink or rent a car on your own? Where is the logic in that?
Or is it our innate ability to find patterns in nature that makes us more aware of certain ages. What is the big difference between 29 and 30, or 39 and 40? It is just another year, but maybe we see the ‘0’ as the beginning of a new time? A turning of a page in ages that holds within it a new door? I don’t know.
Time is somewhat arbitrary. The Earth spinning while traveling around the sun at regular intervals and the tilt of our axis causes day and night and the seasons. We a human have chopped up those spans of sun up to sun down and the changing temperatures (although this past March is a curveball in that, in like a lion and out like a snowman) and created years, months, hours, minutes, and seconds. It will have been 40 times circling around the sun that I have been breathing air on this rock. But again, what does that mean?
Some people see 40 as a turning point in their or someone else’s life. I don’t understand why. Yes it is a new decade of life one is moving into, but is it really that different than when they turned 38? Is one really wiser, more established with who they are, in the process of raising a family, well placed within their career and not just a job? No, I don’t feel that is the mark of the 40’s. Is it because some see it as the beginning of the end? This is the mid-life. People see this as the halfway point to death. Then again, the average life expectancy for a male in the US is 76, so 38 really should have been the ‘turning point’ in one’s life. Yet no one pays attention to 38. You tell someone you are having a birthday and when they say oh turning ‘38?39?’ and then you respond with 40 they stop a second and go ‘ooohhh, wow’.
With all that laid out there I have to admit that my turning 40 is affecting me. I don’t know what it is or why that is. I have stopped making some mistakes thanks to experience and continue to make mistakes despite experience. I am in a career now and not just doing a job, although the previous job field I was in I had done for steadily for twice the amount of time I have been in my current field. Not currently raising a family but I have what I think is an amazing connection with some people with kids that gives me the opportunity to feel a part of that. Oh, and there are a couple of young cats at the house that is totally just like raising a couple of kids. Ok ok, not really but I just had to say it, couldn’t resist.
I don’t feel old enough to be 40 – again what does it mean to feel 40 to begin with? Perhaps the better statement is I don’t feel mature enough to be 40. Maybe what is happening is that I am looking at myself and then looking at my parents. When my parents were 40 they had 4 kids ages 19, 16, 10, and 7. I can’t compare to that. (Then again, using the example of age 38, they still had the 4 kids.) Maybe that is the element that makes it hard for me to grasp hold of the idea that come tomorrow I will be 40. So I still don’t know what it means to turn 40. It probably doesn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of life the universe and everything. But if that is the case then why am I looking at this year and thinking “wow, I’m turning 40”?
On my photography side of life I have decided that this year I need to get my name out there more and participate in more gallery shows and get some more shooting done. Maybe that is what is getting on me. Are there things that I want to accomplish that I have yet to? I don’t have a bucket list per se, but I think there are some elements that I had hoped to have under my belt by the time I reached this arbitrary line in the sand. But the more I look at that list, it doesn’t necessitate the milestone age requirement – I don’t need to try and have a motorcycle by my 40th, for example.
So I am still at a loss as to why. You know, maybe I am just getting caught up in the new decade feel, or allowing myself to lean on the side of no longer young and in the 20’s and 30’s, that 40’s is the mark of getting older (skip that whole wiser part, I am certainly not a symbol of that). However, I don’t get all swept up in that ‘older’ mindset, at least not now. My entrance into the next decade and I am in a better place than I was entering the previous decade. I don’t plan on letting things slow me down, I will at least keep the same momentum going. There are aspects in my life that needs much improvement, and crossing that threshold of ‘40’ won’t imbue me with powers that will make those improvements immediate just because I am no the big 4-0. I have learned from some mistakes and haven’t repeated them and I am also still making mistakes even after learning. I am as flawed entering my 40’s as I was the end of my 30’s (and 20’s and teens, etc). As long as the people who are important to me and help guide me are there then that becomes more of a reality.
So maybe that is the one of the secrets of turning 40, it isn’t that you are of a certain experience and knowledge, but that the people you surround yourself with hae that collective experience and knowledge and families to hold you up when you are weak, call you out on your errors, guide you when you need it, and basically love you for who you are. Growing up people can have a lot of friends and acquaintances. College and new jobs grow that circle of friends even wider. But as we all get older and lives take different directions, families are started or careers relocate us. We reach that point where those who are there with us and are close are the deeper connections. Lives get busy with distractions, kids, long hours, whatever, but because our time is precious the more we move forward the more important those connections mean to us. So while we might not have as many friends as we once did, the friends we do have are more special.
It could be that the experience is not from within but from all we surround ourselves with. Those connections that become stronger because it has more meaning. Perhaps that is what one meaning could be for turning 40. A recognition of not who we are to ourselves but who we are to those we care the most about, who we surround ourselves with. Not who we think we should be to ourselves but how we should be to our close friends that extended family. And that is worth turning 40 for.
That is where I need to improve so that I can recognize and validate that every day. Does this take turning 40 to do it? Of course not, again this is just a line in the sand, but it is just another shot to open ones eyes and realize that while time might be arbitrary people aren’t. As Kurt Vonnegut beautifully put it ““We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
And I have to give one more quote shout from one of my favorite authors to end it all. I turn to this quote when I have a hard time coming up with the right words.
“Words that come from the heart are never spoken, they get caught in the throat and can only be read in one’s eyes.” ― José Saramago