I think a big birthday like this would feel strange at any time, but it feels especially strange during this time of pandemics and protests. Earlier in the year, I started making plans for celebrating my birthday, but all that went out the window with COVID19. And now are far more serious things going on anyway.
But turning 40 naturally leads to some introspection and evaluation. But how do I look at my past and future when I’m in the work-from-home purgatory where time has ceased to have all meaning?
Like a lot of 40-year-old men, my belly has grown thicker while my hair has thinned. My ears and eyes are worse for wear. I suffer from strange pains and migraines. But I’d like to think I’m a little wiser than my younger self. Hopefully just as curious. Maybe the fact that I’m a little embarrassed and amused to type that means I don’t take myself as seriously. That’s probably a good thing too.
Do I have a career? What is a career these days? I’ve jumped around a bit—a bureaucrat, a lawyer, a freelance writer and editor, and back to a bureaucrat, but one that mostly writes and edits. There’s a nice symmetry there. It’s not quite coming full circle, but let’s say a spiral, one that I think goes upward. I feel like I’m zeroing in on something I’m good at and I enjoy, which is a pretty great combo I’m lucky to have.
More importantly, I have a family. Laura and I celebrated our 11th anniversary over the weekend (and we started dating 18 years ago). Maybe my favorite thing I’ve learned over the years are all of her laughs. There’s the eye roll and groan at a Dad joke. There’s the laugh where her nose crinkles at the top. And then there’s the snort. But if I’ve really done my job right, she laughs so hard she turns red and cries. That’s when we have to pause everything else for a few minutes for her to come down from that laugh. I love that one.
And then there’s Anna. She’s clever and curious, quick to laugh, always questioning, never slowing down. She’s just the best. Yes, I’m completely biased. And yes, there are times of stress and frustration, but there are also moments like when I get to witness her puzzle over something and figure it out on her own. That look of realization and then triumph? It’s incredible.
And there are those moments when I also see my faults and bad habits reflected in her. Not only do I get to help teach her better habits, but it’s also another chance for me to practice fighting those habits. Right now we’re working on paying more attention to what’s around us and being more patient. I’d put my bet on her over me to fix those habits faster.
Like a lot of people these days, I’m gardening, watching the birds, walking my dogs. An afternoon out means out in the backyard. A trip to the store means a mask and keeping my distance. It’s not exactly what I pictured what my 40th birthday would be like when I was younger. It’s weirder and worse in some ways. But it’s also weird and surprising in good ways.
And so I enter the second half of my life. A hinge, an inflection point. And at the same time I’m feeling a lot of anxiety, fear, and hope about my future, I’m also having the same feelings about my country and the world. Maybe hitting 40 means that I’ve come to realize that it’s not enough to just fear the worst and hope for the best. I have to act to see the change I want. But I have also come to realize that those acts might not shake the world, but they may give those around me a nudge in the right direction. I might not ever be an optimist, but maybe I’m becoming less of a pessimist? If so, 40 doesn’t look so bad at all.